Published on: Thursday, September 9, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court took the rare step Wednesday night of not only staying an execution but setting the capital case down for full briefing and argument (article available here).

The Supreme Court blocked John Henry Ramirez's execution about three hours after he could have been executed. In its brief order, the court directed its clerk to establish a briefing schedule so Ramirez's case could be argued in October or November.

Ramirez, who was sentenced to death for the 2004 murder of a convenience-store clerk, argued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was violating his First Amendment rights to practice his religion by denying his request to have his pastor touch him and vocalize prayers when he was executed. The district court and Fifth Circuit had rejected Ramirez's argument.

The request by Ramirez, 37, is the latest clash between death row inmates and prison officials in Texas and other states over the presence of spiritual advisers in the death chamber. The only execution stays the Supreme Court has granted in recent years have been related to issues of religious practice or discrimination.

In April, the Texas prison system reversed a two-year ban on allowing spiritual advisers in the death chamber. The ban came after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 halted the execution of another Texas inmate who had argued his religious freedom was being violated because his Buddhist spiritual adviser wasn't allowed to accompany him.

Six more executions are scheduled for later this year in Texas, the nation's busiest capital punishment state.