WASHINGTON — Arkansas Chief Justice Howard Brill on Thursday provided the fourth vote needed to grant inmates' request to keep executions on hold while they ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their appeal.
Brill's procedural ruling was also favored by the three justices who have disagreed with the court's rejection of death-row inmates' challenge to Arkansas' death penalty secrecy law.
In June, the state Supreme Court rejected nine inmates' challenges to the secrecy law in a 4-3 vote. On Thursday, the same four justices — Brill included — rejected the inmates' request for the court to reconsider their decision.
However, Brill joined justices Paul Danielson, Josephine Hart, and Robin Wynne in granting the inmates' request to grant them a stay pending the outcome of their petition for the Supreme Court to grant certiorari and hear their appeal in the case.
Justices Karen Baker, Courtney Hudson Goodson, and Rhonda Wood — all of whom had, like Brill, voted against the inmates' challenge and the rehearing request — would have denied the stay request.
The inmates now have 90 days to file their certiorari petition at the U.S. Supreme Court. A response from the state could be filed by the state or requested by the court after that — a process that takes additional time before the justices would consider the petition.
Given that timeline, it is unlikely the justices would consider the request before December — meaning executions are almost certainly on hold in Arkansas through the rest of 2016 due to the fact that, even if the U.S. Supreme Court denies cert, advance notice then needs to be given for any execution dates set at that point.
While the state has not held an execution in more than a decade, Gov. Asa Hutchinson attempted to restart them in 2015, but has so far been stymied in carrying any out.