A week after the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote cleared the way for an Oklahoma man to be executed using a controversial drug, the justices agreed to hear a legal challenge that the drug amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The sudden turnaround — marking the first time since 2008 that justices have intervened in the issue of execution by lethal injection — apparently reflects not a change of heart, but the narrow conservative-versus-liberal divide on the high court.

As a result, it appears that the liberal justices voted to hear the case, even though conservatives seem firm in their position that the drug is legal and may ultimately have the votes to uphold its use.


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