The Supreme Court heard arguments in Baze v. Rees today. The case is about whether the three-drug protocol in lethal injections amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The three drugs are sodium pentothal, which is supposed to render the condemned unconscious; pancuronium bromide, which is supposed to paralyze the condemned, and potassium chloride, which is supposed to stop the heart.
At issue is the fact that if the sodium pentathol does not render a particular condemned inmate unconscious, he or she is left paralyzed and in excruciating pain. That “if” appears to be the crux of the arguments for and against the procedure.
Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s thinking may be an exception, cruxwise.
Justice Antonin Scalia noted that execution methods that have fallen out of use — the electric chair, the firing squad, the hangman’s noose — have been abandoned in part because of fears that they were not pain-free.
But where is it written that the state must choose “the least painful method,” Justice Scalia demanded. “Is that somewhere in the Constitution?”