By Jon Herskovitz
(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court with new Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued two decisions on Thursday that helped clear the way for Tennessee to execute an inmate convicted of murdering two men in 1983.
Edmund Zagorski, 63, had been set to be executed on Thursday but a few hours before the Supreme Court's decision Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted a 10-day reprieve to allow the case to wind itself through the courts and to consider the inmate's request to be put to death by electrocution.
Kavanaugh's name was not on the Supreme Court's two decisions that were offered without elaboration, so it was not clear how the conservative justice voted in what was likely his first ruling in his new post. Liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented in both decisions.
In its first decision, the court denied a request to hear a case brought by Zagorski and other Tennessee death row inmates over the state's lethal injection drug protocol. The mix includes a compound used in flawed executions in Oklahoma and Arizona where witnesses said inmates twisted in pain on death chamber gurneys as drugs to halt breathing and cause cardiac failure took effect.
"The longer we stand silent amid growing evidence of inhumanity in execution methods like Tennessee’s, the longer we extend our own complicity in state-sponsored brutality," Sotomayor wrote.
Lawyers for Zagorski said he believed that compared to the state's lethal injection mix, the electric chair would be a less painful option.
The Supreme Court also lifted a U.S. appeals court decision from a day earlier to temporarily halt the execution after the current lawyers for Zagorski argued his initial trial lawyers failed to adequately defend him at his murder trial and sentencing.
Zagorski was convicted of murdering John Dale Dotson and Jimmy Porter in a drug deal and stealing the money they had on them to purchase a large quantity of marijuana, court documents showed.
Brett Kavanaugh spent a collegial first day on the bench as a U.S. Supreme Court justice on Tuesday that contrasted sharply with the venom of his confirmation process, taking an active role in arguments alongside his eight new colleagues.
The bitterly divided Senate voted 50-48 on Saturday to confirm Kavanaugh, with just one Democrat supporting him. Kavanaugh's confirmation gave the Republican president a political victory ahead of crucial Nov. 6 congressional elections.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Michael Perry)