Tennessee can electrocute inmates if the drugs needed to perform lethal injection are unavailable, state lawyers say in an opinion released Thursday.
A bill pending in the state legislature that allows the state to use the electric chair for all executions is constitutional, Attorney General Robert Cooper's office says. Tennessee currently lets inmates sentenced to death choose electrocution or lethal injection, but Senate Bill 2580 would mandate the electric chair if lethal injection is found unconstitutional or if the drugs cannot be obtained.
The attorney general's office says courts have ruled previously that electrocution violates neither the Tennessee nor United States constitutions.
"Electrocution has never been found to be cruel and unusual punishment by any American court," state lawyers quote an appeals court as writing in 1997. They go on to note that the method probably would be challenged in court, nonetheless.
Tennessee has begun to reconsider the electric chair as court challenges and pressure groups have made it harder for states to obtain lethal injection drugs. Some states are believed to have turned to compounding pharmacies to make the drugs for them, a practice that has raised new questions about their effectiveness.
In Tennessee, executions have been on hold since 2009, in part because one drug was unavailable but also because of other legal challenges. After a substitute drug was found, the state announced plans late last year move ahead with 11 executions.