Tennessee’s Supreme Court has upheld the state’s lethal injection policy for executing death row inmates. The ruling Wednesday quashed a legal debate that officially began in 2013. In a unanimous opinion, the court ruled that lethal injection did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

The state relies on injections of compounded pentobarbital to carry out the death penalty.  Thirty inmates on death row were part of the case that alleged lethal injections were unconstitutional due to the risk of pain and suffering and “lingering death.”

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In 2015, the state put a moratorium on four executions scheduled to take place until the court could weigh in. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, it’s likely those executions will be rescheduled.


However, death penalty drugs are notoriously hard to come by in the state, the Tennessean reported earlier in March. Even if executions are resumed as a result of the ruling, it may still be difficult to carry out lethal injections if the drugs are unavailable.

As a backup, Tennessee allows for the death penalty to be carried out by electric chair. Of the 31 states that still allow the death penalty, only Tennessee and Oklahoma still permit use of the electric chair.

Tennessee has executed six people since 1976, though 335 inmates were executed in previous years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The state hasn’t executed someone since 2009, but 61 inmates remain on death row, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

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The use of lethal injection, like the death penalty itself, has been the source of much debate. Certain manufacturers have declined to have their products associated with the death penalty, leading to a short supply of the drugs. As a result, certain pharmacies have begun mixing their own drugs to supply to facilities, the Tennessean reported earlier in March. The state of Georgia postponed an execution for six months in 2015 after it found that the dose of the compounded pentobarbital it planned to use was “cloudy and didn’t look right.”

GettyImages-1304784 The death chamber where inmate Gary Graham was put to death by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas is shown Jun. 23, 2000. Tennessee's Supreme Court upheld the state's use of lethal injection in a ruling Wednesday. Photo: Getty Images