BOISE — The American Bar Association along with a leading national death penalty scholar, a coalition of media organizations, a legal association, and an advocacy group, filed amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs with the Idaho Supreme Court in support of ACLU of Idaho client Aliza Cover in her lawsuit against the Idaho Department of Correction for its refusal to turn over public information about the source of drugs used in lethal injections. The briefs express support for Professor Cover’s assertion that IDOC wrongfully withheld public information about the executions of two inmates in 2011 and 2012, an act that an Idaho district court agreed was done “frivolously” and in “bad faith.” The case is now on appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court.
One organization that submitted an amicus curiae was the Idaho Press Club, which recently won a public records request lawsuit against the Ada County Board of Commissioners. The Idaho Press Club is joined in its brief by the Associated Press, the Newspaper Association of Idaho, Idahoans for Open Government, KTVB-TV Channel 7, the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho Press, and nine east Idaho newspapers. Along with the American Bar Association and the Idaho Press Club, the Idaho Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Idahoans Against the Death Penalty, and nationally renowned death penalty scholar Austin Sarat each submitted briefs supporting Cover’s lawsuit.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2018 by the ACLU of Idaho, which represents Cover, an Idaho law professor. The case arose after IDOC largely denied Cover’s request for public records about the use of lethal injection. Cover and the ACLU uncovered through the litigation that Idaho prison officials sought lethal injection drugs from a supplier in India only months before Rhoades’ execution was scheduled, and that federal authorities later blocked lethal injection drug shipments from that same supplier to other states. Most important details about Idaho’s lethal injections still remain unknown to Idahoans and the public at large.
The amici curiae all support Cover’s assertion that this information should be accessible to the public to ensure that the governmental agency is not violating the Eighth Amendment — the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
“Secrecy measures around execution protocols undermine public confidence in the justice system because shielding these procedures from the public suggests that they cannot withstand public scrutiny,” the American Bar Association stated in its brief.
“When it comes to execution by lethal injection, the public must have reliable information to determine whether the executions are fairly and humanely administered. Not only does allowing the press to report on executions promote a more informed discussion of the death penalty, it promotes the public perception of fairness and transparency concerning the death penalty,” the Idaho Press Club and other media organizations stated in their brief.
“Public access to all aspects of executions has thus been instrumental to the process of public oversight in America. This is especially important now, as over seven percent of all lethal injection executions in this country are botched—more than with any other method of execution in the nation’s history, including hanging, the electric chair, and even the gas chamber. Yet, lethal injections are regarded as more ‘civilized’ and ‘humane’ than the methods that preceded it. It is thus critical that information about executions remain as transparent as ever,” said Austin Sarat in his brief. Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science and Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty at Amherst College.
“In allowing the IBOC and IDOC to conceal information about the drugs used in Rhoades’ execution, the district court undermined the public accountability for execution practices that has existed throughout U.S. history,” Sarat stated.