Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, released a statement praising the Senate Judiciary Committee for its favorable report of Debo Adegbile to be the Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. In the statement, Ifill says Adegbile “has precisely the type of broad civil rights experience that is required at this pivotal moment in our country.”
Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required federal review of voting laws in states with a history of voter discrimination. Adam Ragusea of NPR reports from Macon, Georgia on the repercussions felt by the city’s minority voters.
Human Rights Watch explores the legal and ethical implications of a growing trend among probation companies to “act more like abusive debt collectors than probation officers.”
by Kara Hartzler, Attorney, Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.; Member, Board of Directors, ACS San Diego Lawyer Chapter; Recipient of the 2013 ACS David Carliner Public Interest Award
When I applied for the David Carliner Public Interest Award last year, I didn’t do it because I had a stunning track record of court victories, a list of successful published decisions, or a résumé chock-full of wins. I did it because I am a giant loser.
In my work as a lawyer at a non-profit immigration rights organization in Arizona, losing was the name of the game. The vast majority of our clients had no way to fight their cases and were merely biding their time before an immigration judge would order them deported. Even the ones who did have a way to fight their cases were usually greeted by an insurmountable trifecta of bad precedent, hostile judges and an agency appellate body with a not-so-subtle agenda. I lost case after case and quickly learned to advise my clients of two things: the law as it was on the books versus the law as it would be applied to them. On any given day, the best I could hope for was a batting average that was a fraction as good as the worst major league baseball player.
And in my current job as an appellate attorney for the Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc., my win/loss ratio has actually declined, if such a thing is possible. Despite practicing in front of the Ninth Circuit—a court derided by conservatives as a liberal bastion of judicial activism—I have yet to win a single criminal case. It’s a really good thing I went for a JD rather than an MBA because any CEO worth his salt would have tossed me out on the street long ago.
But somehow that didn’t keep me from being awarded the 2013 ACS David Carliner Public Interest Award. Here’s why: the award wasn’t created for winners. By its nature, progressive social change comes very slowly and is fought like hell by those who oppose it. And those who fight like hell to oppose change are not even as effective in defeating it as those who are indifferent to it—those who refuse to consider a new interpretation of the law simply because they’ve never heard of it before.
Robert F. Kennedy’s tragic presidential run – he was assassinated June 5, 1968 – was also extraordinary in that a major political figure was trying to focus the nation’s attention on the most vulnerable among us, those living in dire poverty. One of his top aides, Peter Edelman was instrumental in RFK’s efforts to arouse the national conscience about poverty. Edelman is now a Georgetown law school professor and a nationally recognized figure, devoted to improving our society by helping the large numbers of Americans who have for far too long been overlooked.
And, until recently, Peter was also ACS’s Board Chair. His term ended this month, but he remains on the Board. His leadership and guidance as Board Chair were deeply appreciated and we will look forward to his continued partnership with ACS for years to come.
Peter’s illustrious career has included not only his work for RFK, but also as Issues Director for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s presidential campaign and service in the U.S. Department of Justice as Special Assistant to Attorney General John Douglas.
But Peter above all, has devoted great amounts of energy and time to fighting poverty. If you’ve not done so, you should read Edelman’s 2012 book, So Rich, So Poor for a compelling, albeit disheartening, examination of why ending poverty in this nation has been a constant uphill battle. Bill Moyers called the book a must-read “for anyone who wants to understand why, in one of the richest nations in the world, millions of people, even those with jobs, are teetering just a medical bill or missed paycheck from disaster.”
We’re grateful Peter has given some of his remarkable energies and talent to support and advance the work of ACS.
Fifty years ago, a unanimous Supreme Court held in Gideon v. Wainwright that “in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” This holding was described in the opinion to be “an obvious truth,” a recognition that Gideon’s clear and powerful proclamation – protecting the fundamental human right to liberty – is one that resonates with us all.
But the mandate was not self-executing, and far too little planning or coordination was undertaken to translate the legal pronouncement into consistent practice. The fundamental constitutional right of the Sixth Amendment was left to fall victim to the inertia of the “machinery of criminal justice” – a counterweight poignantly exposed in Gideon -- and the political realities of each state and county. The failure to act on a federal level has reversed the tides of history to the very problem Gideon attempted to correct. That is: local political entities cannot be solely relied upon to ensure the constitutional right to counsel is properly structured and funded. As a result, the Attorney General declared on the anniversary of the Gideon decision: “It’s time to reclaim Gideon’s petition – and resolve to confront the obstacles facing indigent defense providers.”
The criminal justice system is an eco-system in which the component parts are inextricably intertwined. If police officers arrest more individuals, prosecutors have more cases to process and public defense organizations have more people for whom to provide legal representation. However, while other system actors have mechanisms to prioritize cases or to exercise discretion over which cases to pursue, the Constitution affords public defenders no such “release valve” for controlling workload. This reality exacerbates funding inequities that exist at the state and local levels.
“[I]n our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” Fifty years ago this past March, Justice Hugo Black wrote those words for a unanimous Supreme Court in holding that the Sixth Amendment provided Clarence Earl Gideon with the right to counsel, despite his indigent status, as he stood trial in Florida for allegedly breaking and entering a Panama City pool hall.
Gideon v. Wainwright forever changed American jurisprudence, ensuring that guilt or innocence in a criminal matter would be fairly adjudicated, regardless of a defendant’s economic circumstance. But as states and the federal government have dramatically slashed their budgets over the last several years, the promise enshrined by Gideon has come under increased threat as public defenders have seen theirbudgets bear a significant brunt of these cuts.
Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) introduced this week a bill to help remedy the effect of these cuts and ensure the promise of Gideon. Entitled the “National Center for the Right to Counsel Act,” the measure would establish a private, non-profit center to provide “financial support to supplement…funding for public defense systems” as well as provide “financial and substantive support for training programs that aim to improve the delivery of legal services to indigent defendants.” The Act would also create geographically-based “regional backup service centers” which would provide public defenders with access to investigators and sentencing mitigation experts as well as information on available financial grants. A nine-person “State Advisory Council” would be formed in each state to monitor the quality of public defender services and ensure compliance with the Act.