This week, we celebrate the 55th anniversary of Gideon v Wainwright, the Supreme Court decision that established the right to counsel for those too poor to afford an attorney and facing deprivation of liberty.
Clarence Earl Gideon was an unlikely hero — a drifter who had spent his entire life in and out of jail — but convinced the U.S. Constitution guaranteed him a right to an attorney, even though the courts said it did not.
His handwritten brief to the U.S. Supreme Court would chart a course to this landmark decision. Watch this brief CBS video about the case that was created for the 50th anniversary of the decision.
Gideon appears in a re-enactment of his appearance in court and it tells the story of the role played in the case by Memphis native and future Supreme Court Justice, Abe Fortas. Click the image to watch.
“Each morning, I slow down as I drive past the concrete blocks in downtown Memphis that once held up the Confederacy.
It has become a daily source of inspiration to reflect on the unrelenting courage, commitment and creativity that leaders in my community displayed to bring down monuments to oppression and inhumanity. Years of meetings, protests, threats, paperwork and political maneuvering culminated in the erasure of these public symbols of white supremacy.
As the Chief Public Defender for Shelby County, this gives me hope. It demonstrates that this community can make difficult change when there is a sustained will to confront injustice.
Razing racial disparities in our juvenile justice system will require the level of courage, commitment and creativity it took to bring down those statues — times 10. That sounds daunting, but Memphis is not alone in this fight. What is wrong here is wrong in communities across our state” — Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush, Commercial Appeal “Viewpoint”
This Tuesday, the Tennessee General Assembly convenes the 2018 legislative session. Over the next few months, we could see laws proposed that dramatically alter the way all children in Tennessee are treated, particularly youth of color who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush was invited to contribute his perspective about a report recently issued by the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice. The recommendations in this report could be used to create a more fair juvenile justice system and curb the number of school children referred to law enforcement.
“I went to law school to do international human rights work, but the more I started learning about the justice system in our country… I realized there is human rights work to do at home.”
Assistant Shelby County Public Defender Melody Dernocoeur presented last month at a conference held in one of the world’s most historic legal venues – the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany – site of the famed Nuremberg Trials.
“This place marks a tragedy, but also, it is a point of progress. You experience these overlapping feelings here. When you’re in that room presenting what is aspirational work, you feel part of a process that has come a long way, but still has a long way to go.”
While at Northwestern Law, Dernocoeur became part of a work group developing an international code for all defense counsel practicing before international tribunals and courts. Her group presented its work at the International Nuremberg Principles Academy for the Fifth International Meeting of the Defence.
Dernocoeur started at the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office in November 2016 and recently transferred to the Juvenile Defender Unit. She came to Memphis specifically to advocate for the defense of children.
We are honored that passionate and talented lawyers from the Mid-South and across the country choose to serve the people of Memphis. #DefendGideon #Gaultat50