John Paul Stevens
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens drew a round of applause Friday night in Chattanooga when he suggested that the recently-euthanized Kentucky Derby horse Eight Bells had probably experienced a more humane death than those who die on death row.
“I had checked the procedure they used to kill the horse,” Justice Stevens said, expressing surprise to learn it is against the law in Kentucky to kill animals using one of the drugs in a three-drug lethal injection cocktail that many believe is cruel to humans.
Yet just three weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled that Kentucky’s use of that cocktail on death row did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Stevens concurred with the court’s decision, but conceded his opinion would “generate debate not only about the constitutionality of the three-drug protocol, but also about the justification for the death penalty itself.”
Justice Stevens talked about the lethal injection case and other recent Supreme Court decisions as he addressed an audience of legal professionals at the Chattanooga Convention Center during the last evening of the 68th conference of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Justice Stevens presides over the 6th Circuit in his position on the Supreme Court.
Held in Chattanooga this year for the first time, the conference drew almost 50 federal judges and more than 800 attendees who practice law in the sixth circuit, which has jurisdiction in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan.
With the presence of so many judges, security was tight throughout the three-day event, as countless U.S. marshals roamed the convention center.
The arrival of Justice Stevens prompted more security Friday night when Marshals stood guard at all the street corners surrounding the downtown venue. Two bomb-sniffing dogs also stood guard outside the ballroom where the lawyers and judges enjoyed a banquet dinner prior to Justice Stevens’ address.
But Justice Stevens kept his short speech lighthearted, too, when he made a plug for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s new book about “the art of persuading judges” and then expressed how impressed he had been with his visit to the Tennessee Aquarium.
Justice Stevens said the aquarium allowed he and his wife to get a behind-the-scenes look at the penguin exhibit.
“When the young lady opened the door, they all came out trooping,” Justice Stevens said of the critters. “We also got to pet them.”
After three days of panel discussions on everything from federal election law to Chattanooga’s famous Jimmy Hoffa trial in 1964, local U.S. Magistrate Judge Bill Carter said the conference could only be considered a success.
“Several people have told me this is the best conference of the 6th Circuit they’ve been to,” Magistrate Judge Carter said.