That opinion prompted an anguished middle-of-the-night dissent from Justice Breyer, whose request that the justices discuss the case the next morning was refused.
“To proceed in this way calls into question the basic principles of fairness that should underlie our criminal justice system,” Justice Breyer wrote. “To proceed in this matter in the middle of the night without giving all members of the court the opportunity for discussion tomorrow morning is, I believe, unfortunate.”
The dispute among the justices lasted long enough that Alabama officials postponed the execution, and Mr. Price remained on death row.
In an unusual after-the-fact opinion issued on May 13, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch, wrote to “set the record straight” about why they had voted to let the execution proceed.
Mr. Price’s strategy was to delay the inevitable, Justice Thomas wrote.
“It is the same strategy adopted by many death-row inmates with an impending execution: bring last-minute claims that will delay the execution, no matter how groundless,” Justice Thomas wrote. “The proper response to this maneuvering is to deny meritless requests expeditiously.”
“To the extent the court’s failure to issue a timely order was attributable to our own dallying,” he wrote, “such delay both rewards gamesmanship and threatens to make last-minute stay applications the norm instead of the exception.”
On Thursday, in a part of the dissent joined only by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Breyer wrote that Mr. Price’s case illuminated problems with the death penalty.
“This case demonstrates once again,” he wrote, “the unfortunate manner in which death sentences are often — perhaps inevitably — carried out in this country. We have here an illustration of why I believe, as I have previously argued, that the court should reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty in an appropriate case.”