2010 in Review: Instant Karma and the Law


Four years ago I decided on a whim that I would try to put a year's worth of legal news to the music that sometimes plays in my head. The result was this column for the Huffington Post in December 2006 entitled "This Land is Your Land," in homage to Woody Guthrie. The following year, in December 2007, I aimed a little lower and offered up this column, again for Huff-Po, entitled "A Tale of Christmas Law." In 2008, I did not write a piece (and I don't remember why). But I was back last year, this time for Vanity Fair, with this piece. "Blowin' in the Wind," yet another ode to Bob Dylan. This year, grace of a new host, there was but one choice. In memory of John Lennon, on the thirtieth anniversary of his death, I offered my version of his classic, "Instant Karma." Forgive me in advance, Yoko.

Instant karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you're gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love
What on earth you tryin' to do
It's up to you, yeah you

Opponents of same-sex marriage, who support California's Proposition 8's ballot measure, accused U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of bias because he is gay. After the respected Republican appointee declared the marriage ban unconstitutional on due process and equal protection grounds, he promptly announced his retirement... Charles Cooper, the hapless lead attorney for Proposition 8, told Judge Walker during closing aguments in the case: "Your honor, you don't have to have evidence" to declare the measure valid... In Iowa, vengeful voters removed from office three of the state's supreme court justices who ruled last year in favor of same-sex marriage... an unusually zealous state attorney in Michigan, Andrew Shirvell, went off the deep end in monitoring the activities of the openly-gay president of the University of Michigan's Student Council... and a Virginia lawmaker promptly introduced legislation in the wake of the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that would preclude gays or lesbians from openly serving in the state national guard.

Instant karma's gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin'
Join the human race
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin' at fools like me
Who in the hell d'you think you are
A super star
Well, right you are

Like her mentor Sarah Palin, erstwhile public figure Christine O'Donnell blanched when asked to name a recent Supreme Court case with which she disagreed. "I am sorry," O'Donnell said, "right off the top of my head, I know there are a lot but, uh, I'll put it up on my website I promise."... Lt. Col. Terry Larkin, the veteran soldier, the doctor, was convicted in December by a military court for refusing to obey orders because of doubts about the Commander-in-Chief's nationality. On the day he was sentenced, he said he had made a mistake... Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller was exonerated by her colleagues even though a judicial investigation revealed her conduct in the Michael Richard death penalty case was "clearly inconsistent" with the proper performance of her duties as a judge... and South Carolina's Democratic Senate candiate Alvin Greene, fighting felony obscenity charges, nevertheless wondered aloud if a presidential campaign was in his future.

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Ev'ryone come on

Climate change denier and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli waged a war against science, and academic freedom at the University of Virginia, before the courts reined him in, for now... Florida Governor Charlie Crist gleefully pardoned long-dead Doors vocalist Jim Morrison -- the Guv even made the motion himself on behalf of the singer -- as the Sunshine State marked its 27th year in a row without a grant of clemency in a capital case... Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), whose state received massive federal help in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, threatened to delay a Senate vote on a popular health bill for 9/11 responders... And after openly defying the federal government and its immigration policies with a controversial state law, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer declared she was offended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks abroad about the Justice Department's planned response to the matter.

Instant karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you off your feet
Better recognize your brothers
Ev'ryone you meet
Why in the world are we here
Surely not to live in pain and fear
Why on earth are you there
When you're ev'rywhere
Come and get your share

Juvenile prisoners in Texas live in fear of rape while state authorities hem and haw about how to protect them or how to punish their abusers... Faced with a national shortage of sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used in lethal injection mixes, Oklahoma executed a man, John David Duty, using a drug typically used in animal euthanasia... Faced with the same shortage, California evidently bought or borrowed some of the lethal drug from Arizona, telling state officials there in an email that they were "life-savers" for helping ensure the execution of California death row inmates... Corporate fraud defendant David H. Brooks was caught by court marshals during his Central Islip, New York trial with at least one pen concealed in "a body cavity" in a failed attempt to smuggle drugs into his cell...the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General called out the FBI for inappropriately spying on domestic political advocacy groups, a special prosecutor refused to prosecute any CIA officials (or private contractors) for destroying evidence (interrogation tapes), and the Office of Professional Responsibility gave a love tap to those Bush-era officials responsible for drafting the so-called torture memos.

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Come on and on and on on on
Yeah yeah, alright, uh huh, ah

Federal appeals court judge Jay Bybee, who authored some of those torture memos, whined about the impact they had on his life. "I have regrets because of the notoriety that this has brought me," he said, without evident irony.... disgraced former U.S. Attorney General Albert Gonzales, who evidently is writing his memoirs, seemed perpelexed not to have yet found a publisher for them... disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich promised a better result the next time he's prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald for trying to sell political appointments and other baubles... disgraced former New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer was rewarded for his infamy with a full-time gig as a host of his own show on CNN... Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, said to be a potential 2012 presidential candidate, first declared he was for the racist Citizens Councils of his youth before he said he was against them.

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
On and on and on on and on

Despite the absence of a significant Muslim population in or anywhere near the state, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that outlaws the use of Sharia law in the Sooner State -- the initiative was promptly enjoined by a federal trial judge in litigation that will likely take years and a great deal of money to resolve... At the same time, Oklahoma voters roundly rejected another ballot initiative that would have required state officials to fund public schools at least on a par with neighboring states... New York officials balked for financial and security reasons at trying 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan but proudly accepted the the fiscal and public-safety burdens of hosting the 2014 Super Bowl at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey... new Census results indicate that there are approximately 308 million people in America -- in 2008, the last year for which figures are available, there were 106 million lawsuits filed in the United States.

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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