The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in Washington upheld the use of a controversial execution drug.
The drug was intended to render the condemned unconscious, but has been blamed in several high-profile botched executions.
The high court ruled 5-4 that the use of the drug midazolam does not violate a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The court had heard arguments in April in an appeal by three inmates in Oklahoma, who were challenging their sentences, arguing that one of the three drugs used in executions does not operate as intended.
The inmates’ lawyers argued that midazolam leaves inmates capable of feeling pain, violating the rights of those being executed by leaving them to possibly feel excruciating pain caused by the other two drugs that actually kill them.
Lawyers for the three death row inmates, Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, likened executions in which the prisoner could feel the pain from the two other drugs to such barbaric methods as burning at the stake.
But defenders of the execution method, like the state of Oklahoma, said that midazolam did render inmates unconscious and incapable of feeling pain.
They also argued that the case was an attack on the death penalty itself.
The Supreme Court found that the plaintiffs had failed to show that the drug, posed a substantial risk of pain when compared to other drugs used for the same purpose in executions.
Midazolam was first used in an execution in Oklahoma in 2014, after two other drugs used to sedate inmates became difficult to procure, amid an embargo by the EU and as drug companies refused to supply other drugs for the procedure.
Questions about the drug combination rose to national prominence after Oklahoma’s lengthy execution in 2014 of Clayton Lockett.
Lockett awoke during the execution and began to move and speak, after a medic had difficulty inserting a needle to administer the drugs.
Lawyers also point to botched executions using the same drug in Ohio and Arizona.
The botched executions have renewed debate about the death penalty, which was allowed in 32 out of 50 states.