The admission by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office that it made an error in a U.S. Supreme Court case over some intricacies of the death penalty is another example of the agency’s sloppy legal work.
Or was it intentional deceit?
We’ve been here before when a New York Times article outlined how Pruitt had signed a letter under his own name written by corporate staff at Devon Energy. The letter sent to the Environmental Protection Agency was critical of the EPA for “overestimating” air pollution.
The article pointed out how Pruitt and several other attorneys general have cozy relationships with energy companies, but it and the ensuing fallout didn’t focus much on the plagiaristic aspects of the letter or its overall legal integrity.
This time around, Pruitt’s office submitted legal information to the high court that was erroneous. The information in question was a letter sent to Texas by a pharmaceutical company. Pruitt’s office, according to BuzzFeed, argued the letter was sent to Oklahoma. Pruitt’s office has now admitted it made an error.
The issue centered on the drug pentobarbital used in the lethal injection process in executions. Pruitt’s office had argued that a pharmaceutical company had written a letter to Oklahoma that it had come “under intense pressure” by anti-death penalty advocates to stop dispensing pentobarbital. The letter was actually sent to Texas. Pruitt’s office apparently redacted the Texas references. Oklahoma replaced pentobarbital with midazolam, which critics argue is not an effective sedative. This is one of the main issues of the case.
Although the “spirit” of the issue in the overall case determining the legality of Oklahoma’s current lethal injection process might well have been represented by the legal information presented by Oklahoma, Pruitt’s office should have been forthcoming that the letter wasn’t sent to the state but to Texas.
As I pointed out earlier, the question is whether this was just sloppy legal work or deliberate deception. Either way, it tells the story of Pruitt’s tenure as attorney general, which has been based on conservative ideological extremism and suing the federal government over the Affordable Care Act.
It remains to be seen if the admission of error will affect the case. It should. At the very least, all of the information submitted to the court by Oklahoma should be carefully vetted. Unfortunately, the court is not considering the overall legality of the death penalty, which is outlawed in many industrial countries and a growing number of states here in this country.
I think many people consider a state attorney general’s main duty is to legally protect the citizenry from crime and consumer fraud. Sometimes, these worthy pursuits lack political glamour. Pruitt spends too much time trying to score political points and gain attention. This is twice now since December that Pruitt’s legal wrangling has come under severe criticism on a national level. It’s not good for the state’s image.