The Slatest

Nebraska Governor Vows to Execute Prisoners Despite Legislative Death Penalty Ban

Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts taking the state’s oath of office.

State of Nebraska

On May 27, Nebraska’s conservative-dominated legislature overrode Republican governor Pete Ricketts’ veto of a bill banning executions in the state. (Nebraska legislators are technically nonpartisan, but it appears 16 of the 35 state representatives known to be Republicans voted for the override.) Ricketts’ response, via the Lincoln Journal Star:

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday he remains determined to carry out the death sentences imposed in Nebraska prior to the Legislature’s repeal of the death penalty last week.

“We are proceeding because that’s what we’re supposed to do, not retroactively change these sentences that were handed down by a judge,” the governor said during a telephone call from Washington.

The Atlantic evaluates the legal issues involved, writing that the governor is likely right that the sentences of the 10 condemned prisoners in Nebraska cannot be retroactively changed—but that actually carrying out those sentences requires death warrants issued by the state’s supreme court, warrants that the court will not legally be allowed to issue after the execution ban takes effect in September. Says the Atlantic’s Garrett Epps: “The attorney general, Doug Peterson, can petition the court to set new execution dates, but it’s unlikely to do so before the law goes into effect.”

Another obstacle facing Ricketts: The state doesn’t presently have all the drugs required to carry out a lethal injection. One such drug, sodium thiopental, has been ordered from India via a company called Harris Pharma, but not delivered—and the FDA is under a court order to seize the shipment because it’s never been approved for U.S. use and its foreign manufacturer is not registered with the U.S. as a drugmaker.

Ricketts’ office says it will seek a court order allowing it to carry out the death sentences and has contacted the FDA to “work through” the issues involving sodium thiopental. A group called Nebraskans for the Death Penalty is also launching a petition drive with the goal of holding a statewide referendum to re-legalize executions.