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Court Keeps Tennessee Executioner Names Quiet

NASHVILLE (CN) - The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the names of executioners are not relevant to death row inmates' challenge of the state's lethal injection protocol.

The state adopted its current lethal injection protocol in 2013 and a lawsuit from the inmates soon followed in Davidson County court.

They argue that lethal injection has a risk of unnecessary pain and is unconstitutional. Less than a week after filing their lawsuit, the inmates asked the state to identify John Doe defendants, the various medical personnel and executioners involved in carrying out a death sentence.

In reversing the decision of a trial court and appeals court, the Volunteer State's high court ruled that executioner identities have no bearing on the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol.

"The protocol must be assessed on its face against the constitutional challenges levied by the plaintiffs," Justice Jeffrey Bivins wrote. "The identities of the persons who may facilitate or carry out the protocol are not relevant to a determination of whether the protocol passes constitutional muster."

The conclusion of the lower courts that executioner names should be released was erroneously based on analyzing the qualifications of execution staff and their ability to apply the protocol, the Tennessee Supreme Court found, rather than on the protocol itself.

"The trial court likewise failed to consider the crucial distinction between the plaintiffs' facial challenge to the protocol as written and any challenges the plaintiffs may be attempting to raise to the protocol as it hypothetically may be applied on some uncertain date in the future by currently unidentifiable persons," Bivins wrote.

Concerns about the lethal injection protocol and its potential future unconstitutionality "are hypothetical and speculative and do not constitute a justifiable controversy," the state supreme court held.

Naming participants in the execution, even under a protected order, may deter them from performing their duties, Bivins ruled, and the lower courts did not adequately consider their privacy and protection.

The death row inmates have also sued over the electric chair as a backup to lethal injection.

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