"Court to hear lethal-injection appeal," is the title of Kevin O'Hanlon's report in the Lincoln Journal Star.
A federal appeals court will hear arguments in March in a case that could force Nebraska to surrender a lethal-injection drug that is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.
The case stems from a ruling last March by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, who said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must immediately notify state correctional departments in possession of any foreign-manufactured sodium thiopental that using such drugs is against the law and the drugs must be returned immediately to the FDA.
The FDA says the judge overstepped his bounds in a ruling. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C., circuit, will hear the appeal March 25.
Nebraska and several other states in which sodium thiopental is part of the execution protocol were forced to buy it overseas when the last U.S. manufacturer quit making it in 2010 because of death-penalty opposition from overseas customers.
Nebraska's sodium thiopental came in two batches, most of which will expire in May. The rest will expire in December.
Leon sided with lawyers for death row inmates in Tennessee, Arizona and California who say the foreign-made sodium thiopental is an unapproved drug.
Sodium thiopental has become increasingly difficult to obtain. The European Union recently banned the export of some barbituric acids, including sodium thiopental, further diminishing the drug's availability for use in lethal injections.
The Swiss firm Naari AG, which made the batches of sodium thiopental held by Nebraska, has said it no longer will ship the drug if it is to be used in executions. Most of the remaining manufacturers of sodium thiopental are in India and China -- and American defense lawyers have questioned the quality of the drugs they make.
The problems with obtaining sodium thiopental have prompted several states to switch to one drug -- the barbiturate pentobarbital -- for their executions.
Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, a member of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, has said he thinks lawmakers need to step in and possibly change Nebraska's protocol.