14 March 2006 :President George W. Bush signed into law a Patriot Act renewal that will allow the government to keep using terror-fighting tools passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The legislation will allow states to obtain approval of their systems of representation in death penalty cases from the U.S. Attorney General rather than from the federal courts, as required under a previous law.
Habeas corpus petitions alleging constitutional error in death verdicts will be put on a fast track for resolution. (Under the old law (the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act), only one state's (Arizona) system of appointment and compensation for defense counsel had been deemed adequate by the courts.)
Critics of the new measure fear that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a strong death penalty proponent, will allow the faster appeals in many states that have failed to meet basic standards for competent defense representation. They also worry that the short timelines will deter private attorneys from taking capital cases in federal court, and could leave some people on death row without counsel altogether.