The federal judiciary today released a short educational video on the right to counsel that every member of the Senate should see … especially those who participated in or acquiesced to the smear campaign against Debo Adegbile earlier this year. Adegbile, who had been nominated to head the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, was attacked because he was involved at the appeals stage in the representation of someone who had been convicted of killing a police officer. The Right Wing whipped up opposition to his nomination, linking him with his client and attacking him for providing representation at all. Every Republican present voted to filibuster Adegbile, as did seven Democrats.
This assault on the right to counsel, a fundamental constitutional right that undergirds our system of justice and protects the freedoms of all Americans, was widely condemned. For instance, more than 1,000 law professors wrote a letter to the Senate explaining the terrible ramifications of its action.
Released by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, today’s video isn’t about judicial nominations, and it wasn’t made for senators. But they should watch it anyway. Too many of them need to be reminded that, as federal Magistrate Judge Jonathan Feldman of New York explains:
The right to counsel is really the fundamental cornerstone of our justice system. Imagine a system of justice where you don’t have the right to a lawyer, where you could simply be accused of doing something wrong and taken right to prison.
The video also explains why people who don’t commit crimes should nevertheless care about the right to counsel:
[Federal Judge Raner Collins of Arizona:] Even though you will never commit a crime yourself, you still may be accused of a crime. It’s easy to accuse someone of doing something wrong.
[Sigmund Adams, former Assistant Federal Public Defender in Maryland]: These things are really about protecting all of us, not just people who are accused. They’re about protecting all of us from an overreach by our government.
[Magistrate Judge Feldman:] You want to have confidence in our justice system, and if you have a lawyer on both sides, and both sides are well represented, that gives the public confidence that the result that comes out of that trial was fair and just.
Across America, hardworking attorneys are engaged in the valuable public service of representing indigent or highly unsavory people accused of crimes. Like John Adams defending British soldiers charged with killing Americans in the Boston Massacre, they embody the best of our nation’s constitutional values.
Whether they have been nominated for an executive or a judicial position, senators should consider their service as a mark in their favor, not against them.