U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens today issued a highly unusual essay asking judges across the country to study whether executing prisoners who have spent long periods on death row violates the Constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Stevens made the request in a two-page supplement to the court's unanimous rejection of Texas killer Clarence Allen Lackey's death penalty appeal. Lackey's attorney argued that executing him after 17 years on death row amounted tocruel and unusual punishment, in part because his prolonged imprisonment had eliminated the possibility that executing him would accomplish retribution or serve as a deterrent. TIME New York correspondent Adam Cohen described the liberal judge's essay as a "bombshell" attempt to subvert aconservative high courtas states gear up for a "huge number" of executions. He notes that a growing number of conservative politicians and judges have been expanding capital punishment statutes and refusing to delay or block executions.