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SC Death Row Inmates Forced to Choose Between Execution Methods After Gov Signs Morbid New Law

SC Death Row Inmates Forced to Choose Between Execution Methods After Gov Signs Morbid New Law
Sean Rayford/Getty Images // Subsociety/Getty Images

The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution demands that "cruel and unusual" punishments can't be employed for anyone found guilty of a crime.

The term "cruel and unusual" was deliberately broad, with the founding fathers anticipating the inevitability of society's shifting attitudes toward criminal punishment.

South Carolina shifted backwards in those attitudes earlier this week after its Republican governor, William McMaster, signed a bill designed to navigate the state's shortage of drugs for lethal injection.

While the law still allows for death row inmates to opt for lethal injection, electrocution, or firing squad, the new law reverses a policy that granted stays of execution for those who chose lethal injection if supplies weren't available. Now, if lethal injection chemicals aren't in supply, the inmates will be forced to choose between shock or squads. If they choose neither, electrocution becomes the default method.

South Carolina hasn't executed anyone in a decade due to a lack of these drugs. The bill's supporters have said that, because the death penalty is legal, the state has an obligation to carry out death sentences.

The Republican-majority Senate initially offered legislation that only allowed for the electric chair, until state Senator Dick Harpootlian, a Democrat, offered an amendment to allow the option of a firing squad, believing this was more humane.

The morbid decision was met with lawsuits from two death row inmates whose appeals have dried up. They argue that because they were sentenced during a time lethal injection was the default, they cannot constitutionally be executed by firing squad or the electric chair.

South Carolina's law revived widespread calls to abolish the death penalty.

Many found support for the death penalty from "pro-life" Republicans to be hypocritical at best.

It's unclear when the executions will begin.