The Supreme Court has backed out of deciding whether death in Florida's electric chair is a type of "cruel and unusual punishment" forbidden by the Constitution.

The justices had agreed in October to use a challenge to Florida's death penalty law to decide the issue. But that was when electrocution was the only method used by the state.

The Florida legislature earlier this month passed a bill providing for death by injection unless an inmate prefers the electric chair, and Gov. Jeb Bush (R) signed it into law.

The justices yesterday dismissed as moot, or legally irrelevant, the case they had been studying.

Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth had suggested such action in a Jan. 13 letter to the justices.

In the dismissed case, convicted murderer Anthony Bryan had argued that execution in Florida's electric chair, called "Old Sparky," violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. He now can opt for death by injection, but Bryan's lawyer opposed Butterworth's effort to dismiss the case, saying the new legislation cannot be applied retroactively unless a Florida law is changed.

In its brief order in Bryan v. Moore, the court accepted "the representation by the state of Florida . . . that [Bryan's] death sentence will be carried out by lethal injection unless [he] affirmatively elects death by electrocution."