Alumni magazines are often just that – magazines only alumni would read. The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphrey’s School of Law set out to do something more.
This week, the school launched its new publication, Memphis Law (ML). Dean Peter Letsou says the goal of the school’s new publication is to communicate with alumni, students, lawyers and other supporters. But Letsou and his staff had one more mission — to produce stories about the law that appeal to readers beyond the legal community.
The Shelby County Public Defender’s Office is proud to have produced the cover story for the launch of ML.
That’s the story of Abe Fortas, the native Memphian who argued the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), which established the right to counsel for all people facing incarceration, regardless of ability to pay, and spawned public defense systems across the country. Later, as a Supreme Court Justice, Fortas wrote the majority opinions in Kent v. United States (1966), which extended due process rights to children and In re Gault (1967), which provided children similar constitutional protections as adults.
Despite these and a remarkable list of other accomplishments, Fortas is but a footnote in Memphis history. You can read about his astounding rise to power and stunning fall from grace and find out why some believe it’s time to revisit Fortas’ place in Memphis history.
We also contributed an article about what the right to counsel looks like in Memphis, 50 years after the Gideon v. Wainwright decision. While that 1963 decision sparked a flurry of change in the criminal justice system, the resources to defend against three decades of tough-on-crime justice policies have not kept up. There is, however, a glimmer of hope that our country and community are rounding a corner in criminal justice reform.