Mark Sherman

WASHINGTON: Supreme Court justices are engaging in an impassioned debate about capital punishment — part of Wednesday’s arguments over the use of a single drug that has been used in several botched executions.

The justices heard arguments over the plea of death row inmates in Oklahoma to outlaw the sedative midazolam. They say it is ineffective in preventing searing pain from the other drugs used in lethal injections.

But the hour-plus session featured complaints from conservative justices that death penalty opponents are waging what Justice Samuel Alito called a “guerrilla war” against executions by working to limit the supply of more effective drugs.

Among the court’s liberals, Justice Elena Kagan said the way states carry out most executions amounts to having prisoners, in her words, “burned alive from the inside.”