WASHINGTON -- Stop executions for a while and perhaps they can be stopped forever. That calculation has been part of the strategy of capital punishment opponents for decades.
The Supreme Court-inspired slowdown in executions offers the first nationwide opportunity in 20-plus years to test whether the absence of regularly scheduled executions will lead some states to abandon the death penalty and change public attitudes about capital punishment.
Recent decisions by judges and elected officials have made clear that most executions won't proceed until the Supreme Court rules in a challenge by two death row inmates to the lethal injection procedures used by Kentucky.
The inmates say Kentucky's method creates the risk of pain severe enough to be cruel and unusual punishment, banned by the Eighth Amendment.
Similar procedures are used by Texas, the far & away leader in lethal injections, and the 16 other states that have executed prisoners in the past two years.
The justices could decide whether Kentucky's procedures violate the Constitution and what standard the courts should use to evaluate the risk a prisoner will feel pain as he is put to death.