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· Man of Myth and Legend
21,362 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Decision published 60 years ago today. The article is worth a read. Reading the full opinion is a better idea.

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963)
bottom photo is his hand written Petition for a Writ of Certorari


Rectangle Font Book Publication Handwriting

· Super Moderator
75,943 Posts
There is nothing in the Sixth Amendment supporting Gideon v. Wainwright, which is why it took until 1963, almost two hundred years after the Sixth Amendment was adopted, to "discover" that this is what it meant.

Gideon is a naked policy decision. The judges thought it would be good policy. Rather than waiting for a legislature to implement it, they simply seized the reins of power, as in a coup d'etat, and declared it by judicial fiat. This was an unauthorized exercise of judicial power.

In fact, at least 12 of the 13 States at the ratification of the Constitution had rejected the English common-law rule, providing for the right to counsel in at least some circumstances. See Powell, 287 U. S., at 64–65; id., at 61–64 (surveying the States’ right- to-counsel provisions); see also Betts v. Brady, 316 U. S. 455, 465–467 (1942) (discussing early state constitutional provisions), overruled by Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U. S. 335 (1963). Read against this backdrop, the Sixth Amendment appears to have been understood at the time of ratification as a rejection of the English common-law rule that prohibited counsel, not as a guarantee of government-funded counsel.​
This understanding—that the Sixth Amendment did not require appointed counsel for defendants—persisted in the Court’s jurisprudence for nearly 150 years.​
. . .​
Soon there- after, the Court held that the Sixth Amendment secures a right to court-appointed counsel in all federal criminal cases. Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U. S. 458, 462–463 (1938). And in 1963, the Court applied this categorical rule to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, stating “that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” Gideon, supra, at 344. Neither of these opinions attempted to square the expansive rights they recognized with the original meaning of the “right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel.” Amdt. 6.​

-- Garza v. Idaho, Thomas, J., dissenting

· Registered
3,799 Posts
I wonder if that was more of a reaction to the growth of the bureaucratic state and the criminalization of everything than to an evolving understanding of the Constitution. Given almost 150 years of constant legal proliferation, the court understood that an ordinary person no longer had a fair shake without professional representation.
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