220 years and counting . . .

Today in history . . .

September 25, 1789 – Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known today as the Bill of Rights, were first proposed. It may be interesting to note that even back then, it took a little over two years (December 15, 1791) to ratify most of them.

If you are unsure how history holds relevance today, consider this sampling:

1st AmendmentFree Speech

2nd AmendmentSecurity of a Free State

5th AmendmentPleading the Fifth (against self-incrimination)

6th Amendment Gideon v. Wainwright (right to counsel)

10th AmendmentState sovereignty

Sometimes it helps to look back, just so we can look forward – with apologies to George Santayana

Thanks to our founding fathers for having the foresight to draft this important document.


Happy Birthday Gideon v. Wainwright


On March 18, 1963 the United States Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright. This landmark case held that the right of an indigent defendant in a criminal trial to have the assistance of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial, and petitioner’s trial and conviction without the assistance of counsel violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

From the opinion:

[A]ny person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth. . . . From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.

Although this case relates to the criminal court system, there are efforts for similar protections for individuals in the civil court system. These efforts are often referred to as Civil Gideon.

The American Bar Association adopted a resolution in 2006 for Civil Gideon in instances when “basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody, as determined by each jurisdiction.”

Isn’t that a lovely birthday wish?

Happy Birthday Gideon v. Wainwright!


Former VP Mondale celebrates Gideon v. Wainwright

Former Vice President Mondale celebrates Gideon v. Wainwright

In case you missed, this morning, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale wrote a column for the Washington Post about the landmark case, Gideon v. Wainwright. What you may not know is that in 1963 in his role as Minnesota’s State Attorney General, the former VP persuaded 23 other state attorneys general to sign a brief in favor of Clarence Earl Gideon.

In Florida, Mr. Gideon was charged with a non-capital felony. Mr. Gideon had no money and no attorney. He asked the Court to appoint an attorney for him, but his request was denied on the ground that state law appointed attorneys for indigents only in captial cases. Mr. Gideon represented himself and was convicted.

Mr. Gideon appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where it was held unanimously that under the 6th Amendment Mr. Gideon and other criminal defendants have a right to be represented by a court-appointed attorney.

The former Vice President’s column is not only a celebration of the decision for indigent criminals, but also a reminder to Americans to review our justice systems – both criminal and civil. He notes that the American Bar Association has “endorsed an expansion of the right to counsel to noncriminal matters where important legal rights, such as loss of housing, are at stake” and that “our justice system depends on the idea that everyone is to be treated fairly, but a lack of resources is affecting the progress the Gideon decision brought to our criminal justice system and is blocking progressive efforts to extend the right to counsel in certain civil cases.”