What Does Foreign Law Teach Us About the Constitutionality of Methods of Execution?:
Several Supreme Court Justices believe that foreign law and practice can help elucidate the meaning of the United States Constitution. They contend that the experience and practices of other countries are relevant to the meaning of our founding charter; what works for other countries may work for us, and we need to be open-minded to the practices and experiences of other nations rather than be arrogant and think other countries have nothing to teach us. This raises an interesting question for those following Baze v. Rees, next week's case on the constitutionality of methods of execution: In countries that have the death penalty, how do they carry out their executions?

  Unfortunately, I couldn't find a good summary of the methods of execution in all 74 countries that have the death penalty. However, I did learn that the clear leader in terms of experience with capital punishment is China: It is estimated that China is responsible for about 80% of the executions worldwide every year. In China, the traditional method of execution appears to be the firing squad. Here's how one website described the process:
Executions are often carried out immediately after a public sentencing rally and the criminal's family is made to pay for the bullet. The prisoner's arms are shackled behind them and they are made to kneel down before receiving a single bullet fired at close range into the back of the head or neck by a soldier or policeman or by a bullet fired into the heart from behind using an automatic rifle.
  However, there is a growing movement in China to replace this with lethal injection; lethal injection was first used about ten years ago and appears to be gaining in popularity as a more humane method of execution. According to the USA Today, lethal injection in China is implemented using so-called "death vans," mobile execution chambers that travel from town to town. One person has estimated that as much as 40% of Chinese executions currently are carried about by the "death vans" instead of by firing squad. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anything on the specific cocktail of drugs the "death vans" use to carry out executions in China.

  In any event, China is of course only one example. Those who believe foreign practices are relevant to the meaning of the U.S. Constitution would want to look more broadly at many other nations, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, two countries with high execution rates. And of course I'm not endorsing this method of Constitutional interpretation: I happen to think practices in China and elsewhere are utterly irrelevant. But I thought it would be interesting to start the inquiry for those who believe that foreign practices inform the meaning of the U.S. Constitution.