I've been reading the Wikipedia article about the Execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith, and the section about the first execution attempt says:

  • at 7:59 p.m. the Eleventh Circuit issued a stay of execution
  • At approximately 10:20 p.m. the United States Supreme Court lifted the Eleventh Circuit's stay of execution

But the court process is usually such a lengthy business, how did they do it in just 2 hours? Do they really dig deep into the case, or just rubber stamp it? Do they have to assemble all 9 justices for this? And how much of their time does reviewing all executions from the whole country take?


1 Answer 1


There is a Justice assigned to emergency motions from each state and court of appeals circuit.

The assigned Justice, Justice Thomas in this particular case, then either rules on the spot, or decides to pro-actively circulate it to fellow justices in a quick up and down vote (in this particular case, three of the Justices voted to grant the motion and dissented from his denial of it).

As a practical matter, good death penalty appeal counsel and the counsel for the state in death penalty cases, keep the U.S. Supreme Court and any other intermediate courts apprised that the case is in the pipeline and may need a ruling on an execution date, so that the Justices can have their clerks look into the case in advance so that they are prepared if the motion is filed.

This comes up a dozen to several dozen times a year, every year, so the U.S. Supreme Court has this drill down to a science procedurally.

An article referenced in the comments explains the process in greater depth.


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