The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the source of the drugs that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice uses to execute convicted killers are not exempt from the state's open records law, holding open the possibility that the state may be required to disclose the source of the drugs, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Maurie Levin, the anti death penalty attorney who filed the lawsuit back in 2014, tells News Radio 1200 WOAI that the ruling won't have a major impact right away, because in 2015, the Legislature passed a bill that increases the secrecy surrounding the source of the drugs.
"The secrecy legislation was passed after our original request was filed," she said. "They are not required to disclose who the supplier is after the secrecy law."
But death penalty opponents indicate they may go to court to have the 2015 law declared an unconstitutional violation of the public's right to know where their tax money is being spent.
"This is pivotal, because it really is about open government and transparency, and TDCJ is also being held to the letter of the law."
This ruling will allow the lawyers to learn about two death penalty sentences in 2014, before the new secrecy law was approved.Most major drug makers are now multi national corporations, and the European Union forbids any drug company operating in Europe, which is all of the majors, from selling drugs to U.S. states specifically for use in executions.
So in the past several years, states have been scrambling to come up with pentobartibal, which Texas uses in its executions, from smaller supplies, including so called 'compounding pharmacies' which specialize in turning some drugs into other compounds.
Levin and other activists say the information on where the drugs are coming from is critical because it is important to know if the substance used will cause the 'cruel and unusual punishment' which is specifically prohibited by the Constitution.
But there is another goal as well. Death Penalty opponents have begun harassing pharmacies which sell death drugs to states, everything from comments on social media to demonstrations in front of their business, in an effort to convince them to stop selling the drugs.
Regardless of whether executions are legal, if the state is unable to obtain the drugs needed to execute convicts, it will be unable to carry out executions.