THE BLOG

This Land is Your Land

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island


In California this year, a federal trial judge halted all executions in the state after a lengthy hearing during which one prison official, explaining a botched lethal injection a few years ago, exclaimed under oath: "shit happens." A former warden in charge of executions also testified that all he needed to consider an execution "successful" was the death of the inmate. Lethal injections also were put on hold in Florida and Maryland near the end of the year.

In New York this year, the Times featured a series on the state's small-town "justice" system. As the paper's William Glaberson explained: "Nearly three-quarters of the judges are not lawyers, and many -- truck drivers, sewer workers or laborers -- have scant grasp of the most basic legal principles... But serious things happen in these little rooms all over New York State. People have been sent to jail without a guilty plea or a trial, or tossed from their homes without a proper proceeding."

From the redwood forest, to the Gulf Stream waters
This Land was made for you and me.


Oregon this year won a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court when the Justices in a close case decided that the Justice Department could not use a federal law, the Controlled Substances Act, to block Oregon doctors from helping terminally ill patients end their lives under the state's Death with Dignity Act. However, the Justices were not so willing to support states' rights when it came to medical marijuana, ruling that the same federal law blocked a popular state law in California that allowed people to use pot under a doctor's orders.

In Florida, a federal judge fed up with bickering lawyers ordered them to play a game of "rock, paper, scissors" to resolve a dispute over where to hold a deposition even though the opposing lawyers worked in the same building. And a death row inmate had to be lethally injected twice because the first deadly cocktail was injected into the soft tissue in his arm and not into his veins.

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway


In Kansas late this year the state's attorney general, a vociferous anti-abortion advocate, charged a doctor with improperly performing late-term abortions and failing to report them to the state's health department. Less than one day later, a state court judge dismissed the charges, noting that the state official had not consulted with the local prosecutor before bringing the case. The attorney general, Phill Kline, was defeated in an election in November and won't be returning to his post. He's the same guy who pushed to include anti-evolution stickers in public school textbooks in the state.

In Colorado, a popular pastor of a powerful church resigned his post amid allegations that he paid for gay sex and drug use. When asked about the drug use, and his possession of methamphetamines, Ted Haggard said Clintonesquely that he was curious about the drug but never used it. The interview was conducted while Haggard sat in the driver's seat of his car with his wife by his side and his children in the back seat. No charges have yet been brought against Haggard but just before the end of the year another popular Colorado minister also quit after admitting he had sex with men.

I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me.


All over the country, and for month after month, people got really sick (and worse) from contaminated lettuce and spinach and by the end of the year a rash of lawsuits against produce growers and suppliers were beginning to wend their way through court. An e-coli blog produced and maintained by a lawyer specializing in this field now exists online to track such cases as part of a mission by some to encourage "surveillance and analysis on e-coli news and outbreaks."

I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts


In Nevada, the Los Angeles Times reported in a shocking three-part expose, the judicial system is so flawed and corrupt that state-court judges often preside over cases in which they have a financial interest and routinely accept gifts from parties who have or are about to appear before them. "I don't think what goes on in Nevada bears any resemblance to a justice system," said one prominent attorney. "It's an old-boy network. It's not a legal system." By the end of the year, reformists within the system were beginning to demand changes.

And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me


That voice sounding loudly above the rest probably came from Nancy Grace, of Court TV and CNN, who by the end of the year found herself as a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a young woman who committed suicide right after she had appeared on Grace's primetime law show to face questions about the disappearance of her son. The interview was awful and inappropriate but Grace and her most avid fans and followers defended it even as they continued to accuse the dead woman of playing a role in the mystery surrounding her son. The boy has not yet been found, dead or alive.

The sun comes shining and I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling


As the U.S. Supreme Court considers an important environmental case involving global warming, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), acting as the Chairman of the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works, continued to contend (as he did in 2003) that the phenomenon of global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." Inhofe this year again rejected overwhelming scientific evidence and said that global warming is "an article of faith." With the Senate now in control of the Democrats, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) will take over Inhofe's spot on the Committee.

The fog was lifting and a voice came chanting
This land was made for you and me.


Despite video proof that our horses are being inhumanely slaughtered, the U.S. Senate refused this year to take up passage of the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, a bill designed to protect American horses from being killed for human consumption overseas. The House of Representatives passed the measure in September but it died without action in the Senate even as that august body spent its time this fall passing a Resolution that "commended" the New Orleans Saints for winning a Monday night football game and a Resolution that the week of October 15th was to be designated as "National Character Counts Week." Tens of thousands of horses will be brutally killed in 2007--by grim men in three, foreign-owned slaughterhouses-- thanks to the Senate's inaction.

(with apologies to Woody Guthrie)

Andrew Cohen is CBS News Chief Legal Analyst. His "CourtWatch" columns for CBS can be found online here. He also writes Bench Conference and a regular law column for washingtonpost.com.

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