The state's high court denied a request from the Tennessee attorney general to schedule eight executions before June 1, when the state's top lawyer believes the availability of lethal injection drugs would become "uncertain."
But the Tennessee Supreme Court did set two execution dates later this year for death row inmates, including a Knox County man convicted of the 1981 murder of a mentally disabled young woman.
The decision calls into question whether the state has the capacity to actually carry out those executions, what would be the first for Tennessee since 2007.
Representatives for the attorney general and Tennessee Department of Correction did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The two men with new executions scheduled are Edmund Zagorski and David Earl Miller.
Zagorski, of Robertson County, was sentenced to death in 1984 for murdering two men. Miller, of Knox County, was convicted of the 1981 murder of a mentally disabled young woman, according to the Supreme Court.
Zagorski is set to die Oct. 11, and Miller's execution is scheduled for Dec. 6.
The court's order did not give a rationale for why it did not approve the attorney general's request. It did approve requests from attorneys representing the eight men to file additional briefs with the court.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Herbert Slatery asked the court to set eight executions by June 1 due to the availability of execution drugs.
"Years of delay between sentencing and execution undermines confidence in our criminal justice system," Slatery wrote in a court document filed in February.
Zagorski, Miller and the six other inmates are all included in a legal challenge of the state's lethal injection procedure. The legal challenge says the state's proposed three-drug protocol amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, pointing to botched executions in other states where it was used.
In January, the Department of Correction confirmed executions for three other men have been set. Two of the men still have appeals. But Billy Ray Irick, a 59-year-old Knox County man convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl, has exhausted his state and federal appeals, according to a Supreme Court spokeswoman.
His execution is scheduled for Aug. 9.
There are currently 60 people on death row. The 59 men are housed at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute in Nashville. The only woman, Christa Pike, is housed at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.
Reach Dave Boucher at 615-259-8892, at email@example.com and on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.