TIME Courts

Supreme Court Finds Oklahoma Lethal Injection Drug Constitutional

Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014 file photo
Sue Ogrocki—AP The newly renovated death chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., on Oct 9, 2014.

The sedative was used in a series of executions widely considered botched

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol is constitutional, finding that the use of the sedative midazolam in a three-drug cocktail does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The central issue in the case was whether the drug can be used in executions without violating the Constitution. Oklahoma was one of small number of states that incorporated midazolam into a new lethal injection formula after drugs for the established protocol became harder to acquire. The case was brought by Richard Glossip, a longtime Oklahoma death row inmate, and two other prisoners.

The court found that the inmates failed to prove that midazolam given in large doses leads to a substantial risk of severe pain and did not identify an alternative method of execution that significantly reduces that risk, a standard established in Baze v. Rees, a 2008 case in which justices upheld Kentucky’s three-drug combination.

In the majority’s ruling, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that “because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. … Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.”

Following the ruling, Oklahoma announced it would resume executions, which were on hold pending the court’s decision.

“This marks the eighth time a court has upheld as constitutional the lethal injection protocol used by Oklahoma,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in a statement. “The Court’s ruling preserves the ability of the Department of Corrections to proceed with carrying out the punishment of death.”

In the last few years, the landscape has dramatically shifted as states have experimented with new drug combinations in response to dwindling supplies of drugs for established lethal protocols.

Last year, the executioners of three separate inmates—Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and Joseph Wood in Arizona—appeared to experience serious problems in rendering those inmates unconscious. All three were given midazolam as part of the cocktail of drugs, raising questions about its effectiveness. A number of anesthesiologists have criticized states’ use of the drug, saying it’s not an appropriate anesthetic to use during an execution because it doesn’t induce a full state of unconsciousness, potentially leading to a painful execution that could be considered cruel and unusual.

In Lockett’s execution, which was at the heart of the case, the inmate apparently woke up during the procedure after officials had trouble securing an IV in Lockett’s arms. They eventually placed an IV in Lockett’s groin, where it become dislodged, allowing midazolam to leak into the inmate’s surrounding tissues instead of the bloodstream. The execution lasted almost 45 minutes.

Afterwards, Oklahoma suspended future executions and changed its lethal injection policies. Meanwhile, death row inmate Charles Warner and 20 other inmates sued the state over the practice. Warner was executed in January. Three other inmates, including Glossip, eventually brought the case before the Supreme Court.

In December, a district court concluded that midazolam rendered inmates “insensate to pain,” but the plaintiffs argued there was no evidence to support that and appealed.

The case ultimately turned on a very narrow question: whether midazolam sufficiently induced unconsciousness in which an inmate would not feel pain from two other drugs being administered, especially potassium chloride, which one inmate described during an execution as feeling as if he were on fire.

The prisoners were unable to convince the nine justices that midazolam was an inadequate drug for lethal injections or had a “ceiling effect” that rendered the drug ineffective in reducing pain at a certain point.

“Petitioners have not proved that any risk posed by midazolam is substantial when compared to known and available alternative methods of execution,” Alito wrote. “Second, they have failed to establish that the District Court committed clear error when it found that the use of midazolam will not result in severe pain and suffering.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, four states—Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma—have used the drug during executions while five other states have proposed administering it.

Two justices—Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—deviated from ruling on the efficacy of midazolam and instead wrote that capital punishment itself may be unconstitutional. In a lengthy 46-page dissent, the justices said that the death penalty’s arbitrary application and the significant delays between sentencing and execution may violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and they called for the court to fully address its constitutionality.

TIME Gay Marriage

How the Supreme Court’s Marriage Ruling Puts Some Gays and Lesbians at Risk

It could put them at risk of housing or employment discrimination, and it's all perfectly legal.

As a member of the City Council, the late Harvey Milk was nothing if not practical, becoming the first openly gay elected official in California in part by campaigning for a pooper scooper law. So it was in that spirit that one of his friends, the legendary gay rights activist Cleve Jones, recently mused to a meeting with local reporters in San Francisco about the possibility the Supreme Court would expand gay marriage nationwide.

“Now what?” Jones said, channeling his one-time mentor while standing not far from a statue of him. “What about that kid that’s still in Altoona, Pennsylvania? What about that lesbian couple in Birmingham, Alabama? What about that trans cop in Jackson, Mississippi? What about their lives?”

The answer may not be as uplifting as Friday’s news promised. While the court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges is a historic milestone in the gay rights movement that will help tens of thousands of Americans enjoy the benefits of a legal recognition of their unions, there is an undercurrent of risk too. In those parts of the country that do not bar discrimination in housing or employment, gay marriage may make some gays and lesbians more vulnerable.

Take Texas, a state where gay marriages have not been recognized. Pretty soon, a gay man might be able to head to Abilene City Hall for a marriage license and take his vows with his longtime partner. His boss could then fire him and his landlord start eviction proceedings based on his sexual orientation, and it would be perfectly legal.

“At the very moment that same-sex couples in the majority of states in this country partake in that new right that they have, to marry to person that they love, that wedding happens at 10 a.m. They can be fired by noon and evicted from their homes by 2 p.m.,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, tells TIME in an interview. “All in the same day, simply for posting the wedding photo on Facebook.”

And it’s not just Texas. Indeed, more than 206 million Americans — nearly two thirds of the country — live in states where employers can be fired someone for being gay. Only 18 states and the District of Columbia prohibit housing discrimination based on a tenant’s sexuality or sexual identity. Three others prohibit discrimination on sexuality. The remaining 166 million Americans live in states where landlords can evict someone for their sexuality. Friday’s ruling had no effect on what conservative attorney Ted Olson, who argued California’s landmark same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court, called a “crazy quilt” of laws that unequally treat gays and lesbians.

“The freedom to marry would open many doors, but it does not eliminate discrimination and violence against LGBT people and people living with HIV,” said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director of Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group. “And our well-funded opponents would not stop trying to roll back our advances.”

For instance, this population can, in most of America, be denied a job, a house or an education. At the same time, serving on jury can be predicated on a potential juror’s sexuality in most of the country. (Only in the liberal Ninth Circuit have courts found parties cannot exclude jurors based on their sexuality.) And religious liberty laws permit people of faith deny goods or services to gays and lesbians. Cakes, flowers and even pizza can be denied to same-sex couples in the name of religion.

At the same time, banks and other lenders can legally consider a person’s sexuality in determining creditworthiness, and institutions such as emergency management programs or homeless shelters can deny services to gays and lesbians. A report from the liberal Center for American Progress found that one in five homeless youths who were gay couldn’t access short-term services or shelters and another 16 percent rejected for long-term help because of their sexuality.

“Most Americans believe that there are these comprehensive protections in place because it’s so clearly, morally wrong,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign. “They can’t reconcile that with the fact that there aren’t these protections in every community. It’s why people think organizations like (the Human Rights Campaign) are going to pack it up and call it a day after marriage equality because it doesn’t comport with their view of how the world should operate.”

It’s one of the reasons the Human Rights Campaign is now turning its focus on to efforts to add city- and state-based protections, as well as gearing up for a fight on a federal non-discrimination law. Previous efforts have failed to gain traction and most Republicans oppose the proposals. Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon has been working on a comprehensive non-discrimination bill and aides say he could introduce it to the full Senate as early as July. When he does, the 1.5 million-member Human Rights Campaign plans to advocate for it.

“Even with a positive ruling, we’re still not totally equal,” said Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff whose case the Court decided. Obergefell has been traveling the country trying to rally support in places like Dallas, Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio. “Everywhere I go, people come up and thank me.” His allies at the Human Rights Campaign liken him to civil rights leader Rosa Parks or Edie Windsor, whose 2013 case to the Supreme Court opened the rapid expansion of same-sex marriage rights.

“No one would could have predicted this would happen so soon,” said Griffin, who shares an Arkansas hometown with former President Bill Clinton and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. “You go back 6, 7, 8 years. We were losing every battle in the country. The opponents were beating the heck out of us at the ballot box and at state legislatures.”

Then, courts started siding with gay rights activists and public opinion started a rapid shift. Vice President Joe Biden came out in favor of same-sex marriage, followed by President Obama. The pair became the first political ticket to win the White House on a platform that backed same-sex marriage. The issue seems to have lost its political valence, although the culture warriors are hardly giving up. It is certain they will oppose the non-discrimination law when it is introduced later this summer.

“That’s going to take a very long time. It’s going to take us years to get there,” Griffin concedes. But he insists he is not disheartened that yet the victory is incomplete. “It’s our job to roll out our sleeves and get to work harder than we’ve even worked before, and say, ‘Now what?’ to that question that Harvey would have asked,” Griffin said. “We can’t slow down. We can’t kick back and we can’t step back. And we can’t be patient.”

TIME Supreme Court

The Two Harshest Words Antonin Scalia Used Against Obamacare

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia addresses the The Legal Services Corporation's 40th anniversary conference luncheon September 15, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia addresses the The Legal Services Corporation's 40th anniversary conference luncheon September 15, 2014 in Washington, DC.

"I dissent."

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is known for his colorful language, using phrases like “argle-bargle” and “jiggery-pokery” in his dissents.

But the two harshest words he uses to signal his dissatisfaction with the court’s majority are actually pretty plain: “I dissent.”

Within the cloistered world of the nation’s highest court, it’s the little things that get noticed. Among them is the phrase that a Justice on the losing side of a case chooses to end their dissent with.

On the more polite end, there are a couple variations: “I respectfully dissent.” “With respect, I dissent.” “We respectfully dissent.” There’s a more neutral option, simply ending the piece without a sign-off or ending by noting “I would affirm/reverse the decision of the lower court.”

Scalia usually chooses to simply end his decision without a sign-off, but in a select few cases he has gone further and added “I dissent” just to underline the point. That’s how he ended his dissent Thursday from the 6-3 majority opinion in King v. Burwell that allowed subsidies on state-based insurance marketplaces set up through the Affordable Care Act to continue.

The court’s two decisions on Obamacare “will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites,” he wrote. “I dissent.”

Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet, author of a book on Supreme Court dissents called I Dissent, said that’s no accident.

“I don’t know of any systematic studies, but it’s clear to me that the Justices know the difference between the two formulations and make deliberate choices about which to use,” he told TIME in an email.

The cases in which Scalia chooses to end with “I dissent” are interesting.

In 2003, he dissented from the 6-3 majority in Lawrence v. Texas striking down anti-sodomy laws.

“The matters appropriate for this Court’s resolution are only three: Texas’s prohibition of sodomy neither infringes a ‘fundamental right’ (which the Court does not dispute), nor is unsupported by a rational relation to what the Constitution considers a legitimate state interest, nor denies the equal protection of the laws,” he wrote. “I dissent.”

In 2011, he dissented in part from a 5-3 decision in Arizona v. United States that upheld a lower court ruling overturning an Arizona law that denied bail to illegal immigrants charged with some felonies.

“If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State,” Scalia wrote. “I dissent.”

And in 2012, he used the phrase in a dissent from a 5-4 decision in United States v. Windsor that overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act which barred federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

“The Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better,” he wrote. “I dissent.”

Scalia’s liberal colleague, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, recently said in an interview at the American Constitution Society that she stopped writing simply “I dissent” after liberals overreacted to her use of it in the 2000 Bush v. Gore case, even putting it on T-shirts. She now simply notes that she would uphold or overturn the lower court decision.

Still, Ginsburg said the “respectfully” line seems like a silly fiction.

“I think of my colleagues who have just criticized the court’s opinion as being ‘profoundly misguided’ — that’s one from (former Justice) John Paul Stevens — or from Scalia ‘this opinion is not to be taken seriously’ and then after saying that, then you end it (with ‘I respectfully dissent’ when) you’ve show no respect at all,” she said.

TIME Criminal Justice

Bipartisan Push for Criminal Justice Reform Sets Its Agenda

Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.
NICHOLAS KAMM—AFP/Getty Images Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.

But specifics are a casualty of the search for consensus

A bipartisan coalition leading a landmark push for criminal-justice reform has set its agenda, but many of the details remain to be filled in.

The Coalition for Public Safety, which includes some of the most influential policy groups on the right and left, announced a new campaign Monday to reform sentencing laws and reintegrate offenders back into society.

“We see these ideas as the baseline for how we can reduce the existing prison population,” said Christine Leonard, the group’s executive director, “as well as support individuals coming home.”

The announcement was a sign of how far the movement has come, but also a sign of how much work remains to be done to begin enacting its goals.

The group includes liberal outfits like the Center for American Progress and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as conservative organizations like Americans for Tax Reform and Right on Crime. The multi-million dollar initiative is underwritten by donors as disparate as Koch Industries and the Ford Foundation. For these fractious factions, the ability to coalesce around a set of policy objectives is no small task. But a casualty of the search for consensus has been specifics.

Read More: Will Congress Reform the Criminal Justice System?

In a conference call Monday with reporters, the group said it would launch a national education campaign to mobilize public support for some of its priorities with the broadest support, including reducing the length of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders, curtailing sentences of life without parole, promoting alternatives to incarceration and removing obstacles that impede transitions back to the workforce for the one-in-three Americans with a criminal record.

But after months of meetings, the recommendations were modest in scope and light on detail. “These reforms are only the beginning of what lawmakers can do,” said Jason Pye, director of messaging and justice reform at the Tea Party-aligned group FreedomWorks.

Nor is it clear that the recommendations will do much to sway them. Despite growing consensus around the need to reform a system that critics call bloated and broken, there has been little little legislative movement. A raft of bipartisan proposals have languished in a divided Congress.

“Some of the other issues are blocked by partisan stalemate. This is one where we actually could move things forward,” said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. “We’re just going to have to defeat the forces of the status quo.”

Organizers acknowledged that threading bills through Congress remains a challenge. The Coalition hopes to make progress by the August congressional recess, when the presidential race will kick into a higher gear and lawmaking will slow even further.

“We’re in a long term marathon here, in terms of where we need to shift the country after two decades of polices that took us in the wrong direction,” Leonard told TIME in an interview. “There is a strong sense of urgency among these partnering organizations to see that we’re making an impact, both in the daily conversations that are happening around dinner tables but also among policy makers.”

But in Washington the forces of inertia increase in accordance with the number of actors. There are are seven organizations involved with the coalition, and it took months of meetings to lay out a general blueprint. There are 535 lawmakers in Congress. Even the most powerful interest groups know that translating public support into tangible reform remains an uphill battle.

“This is not necessarily a road map for a legislative proposal, but it does demonstrate the pathbreaking level of agreement and consensus around a set of issues,” Leonard says. “What we’re anxious about is, why isn’t there more happening?”

TIME justice

HBO Documentary Highlights Gun Violence

Filmmakers Shari Cookson and Nick Doob attend the HBO screening of 'Requiem For The Dead' at HBO Theater on June 15, 2015 in New York City.
Stephen Lovekin—2015 Getty Images Filmmakers Shari Cookson and Nick Doob attend the HBO screening of 'Requiem For The Dead' at HBO Theater on June 15, 2015 in New York City.

A new HBO documentary about gun violence will air Monday, just days after a deadly massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

Requiem for the Dead uses documentary material such as Facebook status updates, 911 calls, news reports and police investigations to tell the stories of some of the estimated 8,000 people who died from gunfire between March and June of 2014.

“People now document themselves in these very intimate ways,” co-director Shari Cookson tells TIME. “It was like reading a diary.”

“Every story,” her filmmaking partner Nick Doob adds, “is a kind of Greek tragedy.”

In one example, a 12-year-old boy confesses to police that he killed his 11-year-old friend while showing off his father’s loaded handgun.

Another example, about a 12-year-old who shot his sister eight times before turning the gun on himself, is accompanied by a montage of photographs of his belongings, including the Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto videogames, a Hunter Education certificate and a picture of him beaming, one hand clutching a rifle and another caressing an antler.

While the directors say they emphasized character portraits over a political agenda, many of the examples in the documentary seem to highlight incidents that could have been prevented by proper gun storage or better mental health treatment.

“Of course,” Doob admits, “we want to foster dialogue. We want the film to open people to talk so that even NRA people can look at this.”

TIME Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Just Quoted Spider-Man

Spiderman attends "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" Be Amazing Day Volunteer Day at I.S. 145 Joseph Pulitzer on April 25, 2014 in the Queens borough of New York City.
Mike Pont—Getty Images Spiderman attends "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" Be Amazing Day Volunteer Day at I.S. 145 Joseph Pulitzer on April 25, 2014 in the Queens borough of New York City.

In a case involving the superhero

A Supreme Court justice cited an unusual source in a decision handed down Monday: Spider-Man.

With all eyes on the nation’s highest court over upcoming decisions gay marriage and Obamacare, the reference was a rare moment of levity from Justice Elena Kagan.

The reference came in her decision on Kimble v. Marvel, in which the court declined to overrule decades-old precedent that kept patent-holders from collecting royalties after a patent expires. In her opinion, Kagan noted the principle of stare decisis, which holds that court’s should hesitate to overturn their own precedents.

What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “Spider- Man,” p. 13 (1962) (“[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility”).

The quote comes not from a legal expert, of course, but from Uncle Ben, who is trying to guide a young Peter Parker to use his superpowers wisely in Amazing Fantasy No. 15, the comic which features the first appearance of Spider-Man. Supreme Court justices also have superpowers, but they come from a Senate confirmation vote, not a radioactive spider bite.

In her opinion, Kagan also quoted the 1967 Spider-Man TV show theme song: “The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can).”

Read the full opinion here.

 

TIME

Martin O’Malley Is ‘Pissed’ About Gun Control

Democratic presidential hopeful and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley arrives for a campaign event at the Sanctuary Pub on June 11, 2015 in Iowa City, Iowa.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Democratic presidential hopeful and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley arrives for a campaign event at the Sanctuary Pub on June 11, 2015 in Iowa City, Iowa.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told supporters in the wake of this week’s South Carolina shooting that he’s “pissed” Congress is not passing more stringent gun control measures.

“I’m pissed that after an unthinkable tragedy like the one in South Carolina yesterday, instead of jumping to act, we sit back and wait for the appropriate moment to say what we’re all thinking: that this is not the America we want to be living in,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in an email.

Nine people were shot dead in a historically black church in Charleston on Wednesday. A 21-year-old white man, Dylann Roof, has been charged for the crime.

O’Malley passed broad gun control measures as governor that included banning weapons, limiting handgun magazines to 10 rounds, and requiring gun owners to provide their fingerprints as part of their weapons licenses.

The presidential candidate is now advocating nationally for a national assault weapons ban, stricter background checks, and fingerprint requirements. “I proudly hold an F rating from the NRA,” O’Malley said.

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton on Thursday also called for new actions to curb gun violence. “How many people do we need to see cut down before we act?” she said, but didn’t lay out specific proposals.

On Friday morning, O’Malley spoke on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program and advocated coupling mental health programs with stricter gun control.

TIME Crime

Privately-Run Prisons Hold Inmates Longer, Study Finds

Prisoners are incarcerated 4% to 7% longer

Privately-run prisons in the U.S. have become an increasingly popular way for states to cut costs, but a recent study finds that inmates actually stay longer in private prisons than in state-run correctional facilities.

A study by Wisconsin School of Business assistant professor Anita Mukherjee found that inmates held in private prisons in Mississippi from 1996 to 2004 served 4% to 7% longer than inmates serving similar sentences in public prisons. Mukherjee’s study, which is currently under review, appears to be the first to compare time served between public and private prisons.

The U.S. private prison industry is thought to be worth $5 billion a year, with facilities increasingly used by cash-strapped states dealing with overcrowded public prisons. In Mississippi for example, whose 20,000-strong prison population gives it one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, about 40% of inmates are housed in private prisons.

While it makes financial sense for a private prison to hold inmates for as long as possible, Mukherjee says the main reason behind the trend is more complicated than a privately run facility merely attempting to lengthen an inmate’s stay.

Parole boards, rather than the prisons themselves, are the ones that decide whether a prisoner should be released early. Mukherjee argues that private prisons do whatever they can to cut costs, including hiring less experienced guards that work for less pay and have high turnover.

Those inexperienced guards may be more inclined to hand out violations to inmates, she says, which is often the easiest way to maintain authority. Mukherjee found that inmates in private prisons were 15% more likely to get an infraction. And it’s those violations that a parole board looks at when deciding whether to release an inmate early based on good behavior.

Mukherjee says that the inmates in private prisons she studied received more infractions than those in public prisons, even though the parole board is the same for all state prisons. “Because they know they can’t just keep inmates longer, private prisons may be focusing on making it cheaper,” Mukherjee says. “And there are unintended consequences from that.”

 

TIME Crime

Bloodhounds Detect Scent of Escaped Killers as Manhunt Grows, Reports Say

Officials also found a shoe or boot print and food wrappers

The hunt for two convicted murderers who escaped a New York state prison is heating up, as bloodhounds may have picked up the escapees’ scent just a few miles from the facility.

CNN, citing officials and anonymous sources, reports that workers searching for David Sweat and Richard Matt have also found a shoe or boot print, food wrappers and a possible location of bedding that may be connected to the pair, in the search area that officials zeroed in on after the dogs detected a scent.

New York and neighboring state officials have been on high alert since Sweat and Matt were discovered missing from the maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility on Saturday during an early-morning bed check. State officials said Wednesday that the escapees had possibly traveled to Vermont, with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin implying at a news conference the two might have figured New York would have been “too hot” with police and traveled to a Vermont campsite.

Vermont State Police said in a press release, however, that there had been no sighting of the pair in their state, yet still warned citizens to remain cautious.

Upstate New York has indeed been “hot” with police since news broke that the two convicted killers were on the lam. The Washington Post reports that more than 450 law enforcement agents are looking for Sweat and Matt. Authorities have shuttered swaths of State Route 374, a highway near the facility, and a local school district closed all campuses on Thursday to aid police in their search.

Officials are urging citizens to take an abundance of caution, going door-to-door to issue warnings and following up on leads. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly warned that the men are “desperate” and “dangerous.”

“These are not nice guys. They kill. They maim,” said Gov. Shumlin on Thursday. “They’ll do anything, they’ll steal anything to try to remain free.”

TIME Pope Francis

Liberal Clergy Lobby Vatican Ahead of Pope’s U.S. Visit

Pope Francis arrives at the Paul VI Hall for an audience with President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on June 7, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.
Franco Origlia—Getty Images Pope Francis arrives at the Paul VI Hall for an audience with President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on June 7, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.

A group of liberal clergy and union leaders headed to the Vatican this week to lobby for Pope Francis to address race relations, income inequality and immigration reform, among other issues, in his upcoming trip to the United States.

During the four-day trip, the group of 14 met with representatives from a host of Catholic organizations, including two key cardinals who work on social justice issues.

Organized by the U.S. faith-based grassroots group PICO and the Service Employees International Union, the trip’s main goal was to get Pope Francis to highlight some liberal causes during his September visit.

“God cares about poor, low-wage workers. God cares about immigrants. God cares deeply about racial justice,” Bishop Dwayne Royster of the Living Water United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, one of Francis’ three major stops, told TIME. “So it’s very important that the faith community continue to lift up a moral voice and also a mirror to those in power.”

Read More: Pope Francis’ Poverty Agenda Draws President Obama

An advocate of the “Fight for 15” movement, Royster hoped to get the Pope’s attention on labor relations in his home city. When Francis arrives, Royster noted, “he will come into an airport where we support poverty wages and people are working in an oppressive environment.”

Participants on the trip also took to social media, tweeting images from the Vatican with captions such as “#TellthePope,” “BlackLivesMatter,” and “IBelieveWeWillWin.”

Overall, the people on the trip said their goal was to advocate for the marginalized.

A former undocumented immigrant from California, Father Jesus Nieto-Ruiz went on the trip to push for Pope Francis to back President Obama’s recent executive actions allowing undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.

“The Pope and his advisors should listen to the real stories that we have picked up from people who are struggling in this society of exclusion,” he said. “People who have been here for many years, 25 or 30 years, and are now facing deportation because they don’t have documentation—they suffer in the shadows. And that’s not human.”

Read Next: Pope Francis’ Latest Mission: Stopping Nuclear Weapons

For PICO, the trip was also part of an ongoing “Year of Encounter” campaign to tie together various liberal causes, such as universal health care, a path to citizenship and police brutality, into a broader mission.

It succeeded in one respect, with Cardinal Peter Turkson from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace inviting PICO to send a delegation in July to the Bolivian Assembly, where Pope Francis will speak during a Latin American tour.

For clergy members on the trip, the issues are both political and moral.

“The Gospel is political,” said Nieto-Ruiz. “We cannot distinguish and say, ‘Okay, the Gospel must explain theocracy,’ and then let the politicians run our lives with no principles whatsoever. Pope Francis is really incarnating for us the meaning of the Gospel. He’s inviting us to get involved in politics, even when politics is dirty.”

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