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Ours is a nation that takes great pride in the manner in which it administers justice to its citizens. To us, "equal justice under law" is not simply hollow rhetoric; it gives expression to some of our most fundamental values, and it proclaims that every man should be treated fairly and equally in the administration of the laws. It is, of course, of no small moment that we hold such an ideal, for a nation invites judgment on how well its performance comports with its professions of faith.

In the administration of our laws there is much to which we can justifiably point with pride, but it is a commonplace that there remains a long road to travel before ideal and reality meet. In particular, we recognize that a poor man's lack of resources all too often determines the quality of justice he receives. At the turn of the century Mr. Martin Dooley, the great bartender-social critic, observed, "Don't I think a poor man has a chanst in coort? Iv coorse he has. He has the same chanst there that he has outside. He has a splendid, poor man's chanst." While observations of this character are applicable to both civil and criminal cases, they stir especially deep feelings in the latter context, for we profess particular concern that a man not be branded a criminal and deprived of his freedom because of an empty pocketbook.

Had Mr. Dooley been at his post on March 18, 1963, I suspect that even he would have heartened. On that day Gideon's trumpet blew, and a bright new banner was unfurled; it proclaimed that in every serious criminal case the government must provide an accused with counsel if he is too poor to hire one. Thus was a significant step taken to narrow the gap between ideal and reality, because, as an eminent judge has noted: "Of all the rights that an accused person has, the right to ... counsel is by far the most pervasive, for it affects his ability to assert any other rights he may have." The logistical problems occasioned by the new principle are, however, substantial. Gideon's little regiment had no real difficulty in running up its colors, but it is quite apparent that an army – a very large one – must be raised if the victory is to be a lasting one. My question is simply whether student soldiers may be part of that army.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Criminal Law | Law