Chair gets a higher look

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the electric chair amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, thereby halting a Florida execution by Old Sparky, which on its last go-round resulted not in flames but in a bloody mess.

The New York Times conjectures that one reason the Court decided to hear this case was the strong dissent in the recent 4-3 Florida Supreme Court decision upholding the use of the chair. Currently four states -- Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Nebraska -- put people to death by electrocution. The Florida case is one of four death-penalty-related cases that the Court has agreed to hear this term, which is an unusual flurry of activity. In the 12 years after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, there were about 100 executions nationwide. In this year alone, there have been 82. Still, no current Supreme Court justice opposes the death penalty on principle.