HLPROnline Symposium, Keynote Address: Lessons from Gideon and The Struggle for Access to Justice, by Gene Nichol

1:50: Gene Nichol, setting a modest tone for his address: “If George Bush taught us anything, it’s the importance of diminished expectations.”

1:52: Nichol won’t be measuring things, “The bigger I get, the less interested I get in measuring things.” Crack at law students, who are bad at measuring things.

1:54: “These are chilly times,” Nichol’s home state of NC is debating whether to establish a state religion. “But the only state religion in North Carolina is college basketball.”

1:55: The South has more poverty, and fewer politicians who care about it, than other regions.

1:57: Gideon handed down almost exactly 50 years ago, by a Supreme Court willing to rethink major American traditions to intervene on the side of the powerless and marginalized, in contrast to the current trend of rethinking tradition to help the privileged.

1:58: It seems “an obvious truth” that poor defendants need counsel provided for them to be assured a fair trial, yet it was a truth ignored for centuries.

2:00: Cast of characters involved in Gideon: Abe Fortas, John Hart Ely, even Walter Mondale (who gathered an array of state attorneys general to advocate for effective right to counsel).

2:01: Then there’s Gideon himself, “an appropriately biblical moniker,” whom Anthony Lewis described as the one who “said boldly… I request this court to appoint counsel to defend me in this trial.”

2:04: “the largest single defect of the American system of justice” is that the right to a meaningful hearing is still denied to so many.

2:06: We could “dramatically simplify rules” and methods of resolution, but we choose not to. We are the outlier in this in the democratic world. What the European courts have done to guarantee right to counsel in civil courts is far beyond where we are. It puts us at a disadvantage to measure performance by what we do, rather than what we say.

2:09: House Republicans cutting the Legal Services Corporation, apparently trying to send us even further down the list.

2:10: Our poverty is skewed by race and by age (35% of children of color live in poverty). It shames us to have these facts stated out loud.

2:12: To find our peers in inequality, you have to go to the bottom of the list, Turkey and Mexico. “We are the richest, the poorest, and the most unequal advanced nation in the world.”

2:13: “We talk a good game… what we do has almost nothing in common with what we say.” So Gideon mocks it, it is marginalized on the criminal side and ignored on the civil side.

2:15: In law, unlike other fields, we promise that it can be different.

2:16: Quoting Lincoln, we need to rid ourselves of “this base alloy of hypocrisy.”


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