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From the Editor

As this issue of PLN goes to press, the U.S. Supreme Court has just released its opinion in Brown v. Plata affirming the three-judge district court ruling ordering that the State of California must reduce its prison population in order to comply with a multitude of prior injunctions requiring the state to provide constitutionally adequate medical care for its prisoners. This is literally the court ruling of the century as far as prisoner rights cases go. We will report the decision in detail in next month’s issue of PLN.

This month’s cover story on the government’s search for drugs with which to execute its citizens illustrates the problem with the medicalization of state murder. With the lethal drugs running out, the fasçade is pulled away just a little and we see the ugly face of state power, with the rule of law be damned as the state executioners scurry like back alley dope peddlers to hustle up their lethal drug mix. At least when state murder is a straightforward affair of hanging, shooting, electrocution or the gas chamber there is less pretense to the fact that it is the government killing its own citizens.

The move to lethal injection and medicalizing the death penalty was to overcome the well-founded suspicions of many Americans in how the death penalty was actually carried out. While making people think that state murder was no more dramatic an event than euthanizing the beloved family pet, the irony is that the drugs and means used to kill humans do not pass muster if used to put down animals. Thus lethal injection has come full circle from being a more “humane” manner of state murder to, quite literally, a method of killing to which not even animals can be legally subjected in most states. We will continue reporting on this issue as it develops.

On May 13, 2011, I was honored by the graduating law students of City University of New York in Queens, New York by being awarded the school’s Distinguished Public Service Award for 2011. I am the first non-lawyer to receive the award. The CUNY law school is renowned as the nation’s premier public interest law school and prides itself on its dedication to training and graduating lawyers who seek careers of public service for the poor and disadvantaged. When graduating student Amanda Jack contacted me to tell me I had been nominated for the award, which had to be voted on by the entire class, I was surprised and honored by the news. The school waived the requirement that the recipient be an attorney.

Receiving honorary law degrees that day at CUNY were civil rights leader Julian Bond and musician (and death penalty opponent) Steve Earle. The three of us were the speakers at the event. We welcomed the graduating class of 2011 to the ranks of soon-to-be-lawyers representing those who need representation the most. With over a million attorneys the problem is not that the United States lacks lawyers, but that the people in greatest need of their services do not have the means to afford counsel, and the right to counsel for poor people has long been under attack by Congress, state legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court. It seems the most unpopular person in America, at least in some quarters, is a poor person with a lawyer.

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