Breaking: Oklahoma sues the Biden administration in the state's quest to kill John Hanson
Oklahoma argues "state and federal justice will both be achieved" by executing Hanson, currently serving a life sentence in federal prison. The feds have said transfer is not in the public interest.
Oklahoma sued the Biden administration Tuesday over the Federal Bureau of Prison's decision not to transfer custody of John Hanson to Oklahoma so that the state can kill him in December.
Oklahoma officials are seeking a federal court ruling that orders the transfer of Hanson to Oklahoma’s custody and declares federal officials’ decision not to transfer Hanson to be illegal.
As Law Dork covered over the weekend, this situation has arisen because of the unusual scenario that Oklahoma set an execution date for a person not in the state’s custody.
Attorney General John O’Connor and Tulsa County District Attorney Stephen Kunzweiler filed the federal lawsuit Tuesday, arguing that federal officials’ refusal to transfer John Hanson from federal custody to Oklahoma so that officials there can execute Hanson on Dec. 15 is “in violation of the laws of the United States.”
[UPDATE: The judge has ordered the Biden administration to respond to the state’s request by Sunday, Oct. 30, with Oklahoma’s reply due by Wednesday, Nov. 2.]
Law Dork, with Chris Geidner, is independent, reader-supported journalism that seeks to hold government and other public officials accountable. Support this reporting by becoming a free or paid subscriber today.
As discussed previously at Law Dork, the statute at question, 18 USC 3623, contains a discretionary element as to whether transfer should happen. Transfer is only required when “the Director finds that the transfer would be in the public interest.”
The lawsuit boils down to the Oklahoma lawsuit’s claim that “[i]t is indisputable that the public interest favors timely enforcement of the death penalty.”
In part, Oklahoma argues:
Congress has mandated that prisoners be transferred to States, and it has confined any discretion given to Defendants to refuse to the “public interest” as the sole factor for consideration. Because the public interest favors timely implementation of properly-imposed death sentences, the statute requires transfer here.
Federal officials refused Oklahoma’s transfer request, first in September and then again last week, concluding that transfer is not in the public’s best interest. (BOP officials have refused to provide any comment or information about the Hanson transfer request; all case-specific information has been obtained by way of Oklahoma public records requests or court filings.)
Remarkably, Oklahoma argues in their motion for a writ of habeas corpus that “state and federal justice will both be achieved” if a person sentenced to a life sentence in federal prison is executed by a state.
In what could quickly become a key point, the lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of Texas and has been assigned to ultra-conservative US District Judge Reed O’Connor. Oklahoma officials are claiming the authority to do so because the latest transfer denial came from BOP’s regional director, who is based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which is within Judge O’Connor’s district. The reason for filing within his division, where he is the only judge assigned cases, is even more questionable.
“Venue is proper in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(1) because several Defendants—custodians of inmate John Hanson—reside in this District,” the lawsuit notes. “The Wichita Falls Division of the Northern District of Texas is approximately halfway between the BOP Defendants living in the Northern District of Texas and the State of Oklahoma Plaintiffs residing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.”
This also means that, unlike appeals from Oklahoma, which would go to the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, any appeal here would go to the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit — which is the most conservative appeals court in the nation. (Had the lawsuit been filed in federal court in Louisiana, where Hanson is in federal prison, any appeal from such a case would have gone to the 5th Circuit.)
The case will likely move quickly, as Oklahoma is claiming that transfer would need to occur by Nov. 9, when Hanson’s clemency hearing has been set.
This article was expanded after initial publication to add additional information about the lawsuit.
Thanks for reading Law Dork. Subscribe now.
This update was added at 2:55 p.m. Oct. 26.