8th Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Arkansas’ Right to Bar Judge from Death-Penalty Cases

A federal appeals court has dismissed a challenge by an Arkansas circuit court judge who had been banned from hearing death-penalty cases after he protested against capital punishment.

Griffen stepped into the death-penalty debate in April when he granted a pharmaceutical company’s request for a temporary restraining order preventing Arkansas from using vecuronium bromide in its executions. Just hours later, Griffen joined protesters in front of the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, strapped to a makeshift gurney and sporting an anti-death penalty button.

 

LITTLE ROCK (CN) – A state judge in Arkansas cannot pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the state’s highest court after it permanently barred him from hearing death-penalty cases, the Eighth Circuit ruled this week.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen, who is African-American, sued the Arkansas Supreme Court and all seven of its members in October 2017, claiming that his disqualification from death-penalty cases was race-based and in violation of a state religious-freedom law.

The lawsuit was allowed to proceed against each of the justices, but Monday’s ruling dismissed Griffen’s lawsuit altogether for failure “to state plausible claims for relief.”

The disqualification order “does not prohibit Judge Griffen’s free exercise of religious,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Duane Benton for the three-judge panel. “Rather, the order reflects neutral principles applicable to all judges who exhibit potential for bias.”

Griffen stepped into the death-penalty debate in April when he granted a pharmaceutical company’s request for a temporary restraining order preventing Arkansas from using vecuronium bromide in its executions.

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