The sharpest battles over capital punishment today are being fought over the identity of the drugs officials seek to use in lethal injections, how those drugs are manufactured and obtained by executioners, and the obligations state officials have to share material information about the drugs with death-row inmates and the rest of the world.
Late Friday, in a case out of Missouri, the Eighth U.S Circuit Court of Appeals rendered the most significant ruling yet to come out of these battles.
The result is catastrophic for those who believe the means of capital punishment should generally be as transparent as its ends.
The Missouri case, and many others like it, all stem from the same development in 2011. Early that year, the manufacturers of sodium thiopental, the key ingredient in the lethal "cocktail" states were using, announced they would stop making the drug due to objections about its use for capital punishment.
That prompted state officials to scramble for other drugs and to obtain those drugs in circumstances that raise substantial doubts about the efficacy of the drugs to be used. And that in turn prompted defense attorneys to press for information about exactly what chemicals state officials plan to use to kill their clients.