Sotomayor and Kavanaugh filed additional, concurring opinions, while Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.
The justices, especially Thomas, took care to detail the context of the case. A Texas jury sentenced John Ramirez to death after he murdered a convenience store worker, Pablo Castro, in 2004. Ramirez stabbed Castro 29 times during a robbery during which he and his accomplices stole $1.25 from the pockets of the victim. He then left Castro, a father of nine, to bleed to death in a parking lot.
Ramirez, who identifies as Christian, asked for his pastor to be present during his execution, originally scheduled for September 2021. Texas initially denied his request, but then changed its protocol and allowed the pastor — Pastor Dana Moore from the Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi — to be present.
Later, Ramirez requested that his pastor “lay hands” on him and pray with him as he died. He turned to the courts for support when Texas denied the request in July. The Supreme Court intervened and agreed to hear his case just hours before his execution was set to take place. The court heard oral arguments in the case on Nov. 9.
“The question is whether Ramirez’s execution without the requested participation of his pastor should be halted, pending full consideration of his claims on a complete record,” the majority opinion released Thursday reads. “The parties agree that the relief sought is properly characterized as a preliminary injunction. Under such circumstances, the party seeking relief ‘must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.’”
The court holds that Ramirez “is likely to prevail on the merits of his RLUIPA [Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000] claims, and that the other preliminary injunction factors justify relief.”