Forty years after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the United States faces systemic challenges in criminal justice and legal representation for the poor. Vast difficulties and challenges remain for advocates who intend to fulfill Gideon’s promise: stark financial constraints on the resources available for defender services; structural and organizational limitations of traditional public defender offices; public and political resistance to representation for the accused; systemic bias against racial minorities and the poor; the consequences of rising retributivism and the abandonment of rehabilitative policy in the criminal justice system. Reformers working to bring about improvements in public defense approach these challenges using different strategies including on-site program evaluations, technical assistance, standards enforcement, leadership and management training, and, of course, systemic litigation where necessary. Research and critical thinking about indigent defense services, however, is a cornerstone for all these reform strategies. One public defense research project stands out as unique. In 1998, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) at the U.S. Department of Justice decided to fund a project that would convene a small group of influential thinkers and practitioners. Over several years, the group members were given the opportunity to step back from their work in the field in order to analyze the broader problems facing public defense service providers. Never before had the federal government initiated a project aimed at rethinking the role of public defense and identifying ways to address the serious problems facing defense providers in states and counties nationwide. The Executive Session on Public Defense (ESPD) was an historical moment in the struggle for equal justice.
Voting rights advocates should explore section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act as a vehicle to combat voter intimidation.
Mandatory arbitration for guestworkers, a uniquely vulnerable group, will result in class inequality and worse conditions for all workers.
DOJ guidance for mentally impaired detainees in immigration removal proceedings should be amended to provide counsel at earlier signs of incompetence.
An evidentiary privilege to protect workers' confidential communications from disclosure in federal and state court proceedings would support unions.