You Don't See This Every Day

What an extraordinary 24-hour period it's been in the world of the law.

First, on Tuesday, a federal judge in California took a rare tour of the Golden State's new ($900,000) execution facilities at San Quentin State Prison. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, who halted capital punishment in California in 2006 because of concerns about poorly trained executioners carrying out "cruel and unusual" executions, spent at least part of his time on site explaining to assembled reporters why he wasn't involved in the latest death penalty controversy: California's public search for sodium thiopental, one of the drugs commonly used in the three-drug lethal injection "cocktail."  

Then, late yesterday, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives failed in an effort to extend three key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the counter-terrorism statutes enacted in the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The provisions ultimately will be extended -- before the end of the month -- but what a difference nine years make. I still remember the chaos and speed which surrounded the initial passage of this landmark  legislation, signed by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001, like it was yesterday. Don't you? 

Next, on Wednesday on Capitol Hill, 73 (or 74, depending upon whose count you believe) Democratic lawmakers asked Supreme Court Justice Clarence to recuse himself from any future deliberation or decision over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because of his wife Virginia's work with conservative advocacy groups opposed to the new health care laws. Justice Thomas won't do anything about it -- just you watch -- and his public silence from the bench is sure to deepen.  But the political move is a blunt sign of how little lawmakers think of Team Thomas' inadequate financial reporting and  Virginia Thomas' new round of conservative activism.

Then, just a short while later, the House unanimously passed a measure naming a new federal courthouse in Arizona after slain U.S. Chief District Judge John M. Roll, one of the victims of the Tucson massacre last month. Earlier, the Senate also endorsed passage. The irony, of course, is that all Judge Roll wanted from lawmakers were more judges confirmed more quickly. In fact, he went to see Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) that fateful Jan. 8 morning to talk with her and her staff about the "judicial emergency" now befalling Arizona and other states. Never mind the name of the courthouse. If Congress wants to pay tribute to such a brave man, the Senate ought to fill his state's empty benches, at the very least.

In Virginia, the state's first black chief justice, Leroy R. Hassell, Sr, died at age 55. The Commonwealth's Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, meanwhile, filed his brief (and when I say "brief" I mean "political manifesto") with the Supreme Court asking the justices to expedite their review of the aforementioned health care law. Ain't gonna happen. But while you are awaiting top-shelf Commerce Clause analysis you can always follow the Hollywood circus that is Lindsay Lohan, the child-star-gone-rogue charged Wednesday with grand theft for allegedly stealing a necklace.

And if that's not tabloidy enough for you, feel free to follow Italy's prosecution of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; authorities there announced Wednesday that they want to try the PM pronto for having sex with a 17-year-old prostitute and then trying to intervene on her behalf with local police. All this and it's not yet 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

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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, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

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