AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — The Texas Supreme Court cleared the way Friday for the public disclosure of an execution drug supplier that the nation’s busiest death penalty state has fought for years to keep under wraps.
It was a second time this week that a court in the U.S. sided with transparency, however limited, involving executions. On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that Alabama must reveal details of its lethal injection procedure.
The Texas decision is expected to only identify the supplier used in two executions in 2014, since the following year Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law allowing the state to keep future supplier records secret.
“It’s a victory for the general principle of open government and transparency,” said attorney Maurie Levin, who has sought the supplier name on behalf of two death-row inmates.
Republicans hold all seats on the Texas Supreme Court and issued no comment while keeping in place a lower ruling to reveal the supplier identity. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice intends to ask the court for a rehearing, according to agency spokesman Jeremy Desel, although the court seldom grants such requests.
Texas officials have previously insisted the identity of the drug supplier must be kept secret to protect the company from threats of violence. But defense attorneys said they needed the name of the supplier to verify the quality of the drug and spare condemned inmates from unconstitutional pain and suffering.
The fight unfolded in 2014 as Abbott was campaigning for governor. As Texas’ attorney general, Abbott had refused previous attempts by the state prison system to keep supplier information confidential, but reversed his position that year while citing threats made against a supplier.
The state refused to elaborate on the threats or if any pharmacies had been in danger.
In Alabama on Wednesday, U.S. Judge Karon O. Bowdre ruled that the public has a “common law right of access to the sealed records” relating to the state’s lethal injection protocol. The judge said some information can remain secret in the interest of security, such as the names of low-level prison employees involved in executions.
The Associated Press, The Montgomery Advertiser and the Alabama Media Group asked the court in March to unseal records in a lawsuit brought by death row inmate Doyle Lee Hamm, whose death was halted at the last minute in February when the execution team could not connect an intravenous line to his veins, which were damaged by lymphoma, hepatitis and past drug use.
Texas has executed six inmates so far in 2018 according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)