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Gideon's Trumpet (1964)

von Anthony Lewis

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7551122,796 (3.88)27
Clarence Earl Gideon, a semi-literate drifter, is arrested for breaking into a pool room and for petty theft. When he asks the court to appoint a lawyer for his defense because he cannot afford one, his request is denied. Acting as his own lawyer, Gideon is convicted and sent to jail. While in prison, he begins a hand-written campaign directed to the U.S. Supreme Court, contending that every defendant is entitled to legal representation. The Court agrees to hear Gideon's case, and, in a landmark decision, rules in his favor.… (mehr)
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An interesting book for the details it gives into how the Supreme Court works. We get details on how petitions are made, how clerkships work, how briefs are formulated. (Some of these details are dated and inaccurate for today, and unfortunately a modern reader not familiar with the Supreme Court would have no idea. For example, the composition of lawyers arguing cases before the Court has narrowed a lot.)

The subtitle is rather misleading, though, even though Lewis tries to back it up:

> The case of Gideon v. Wainwright is in part a testament to a single human being. Against all the odds of inertia and ignorance and fear of state power, Clarence Earl Gideon insisted that he had a right to a lawyer and kept on insisting all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

In fact, this is pretty much nonsense. The Supreme Court case and its outcome had very little to do with anything from Gideon. It was not about his insistence, his persistence—no, he was just there at the right time. The court wanted a case in order to change Betts v. Brady, and Gideon came along. His lawyers argued the case well, while the other side only tried halfheartedly since they knew they'd lost coming in.

> His triumph there shows that the poorest and least powerful of men—a convict with not even a friend to visit him in prison—can take his cause to the highest court in the land and bring about a fundamental change in the law.

And this moral is, therefore, also wrong. (This also means that a large part of the book, describing all the details of Gideon's life, turns out to be irrelevant.)

It is not just details that have fallen out of date. My biggest problem is that Lewis seems determined to blow a trumpet for the Supreme Court, papering over or simply ignoring its flaws.

> The freedom to decide as one’s conscience and intellect demand, without fear of political retribution, is a rare luxury for any office-holder, and it certainly helps to explain what happens to men when they don the robes of a Supreme Court justice. The southern Senator required to go through the motions of defending segregation—and many in the Senate today are only going through the motions—can shed that dispiriting burden if he goes on the bench. The state judge who has to look to political bosses for re-election—as many do—cuts that tie upon appointment to the Supreme Court. The independence given to the justices enables them to do things that others know are right but have never had the courage or the determination to do by themselves.

Today politicians on the Supreme Court parrot Fox News. Is it good that they can do so "without fear of political retribution"? Is it good that they have the "courage and determination" to commit rape? Obviously, one can tilt too far to one side or the other, but Lewis's determination to look at the Court through rose-colored glasses, and skip over its darker side, makes his book worse than naive. ( )
  breic | May 29, 2019 |
This book tells the story of the 9-0 Supreme Court decision holding that the due process clause under the 14th amendment requires that defendants in state criminal cases be provided counsel if they are unable to afford to pay for counsel. The book is interesting and well-written and recounts Gideon's story as the appellant, the appointment of Abe Fortas by the Supreme Court to handle the appeal, his strategy, how the Supreme Court makes decisions, the precedent relevant to the case and also the personalities and views of the then-serving Justices. ( )
  drsabs | Oct 22, 2018 |
Very new and original description of the procedures and politics behind hearing a case in front of the US Supreme court. Good legal writing for the layman. ( )
  JosephKing6602 | Sep 7, 2015 |
This book tells the story of the important Supreme Court case, Gideon v. Wainwright, which established that all defendants, even in state courts, must have counsel, which must be provided for them if they are unable to pay for this themselves. We are so accustomed to hearing this guarantee asserted when someone is arrested that it is useful to be reminded that until this case was decided in 1963, some state courts (primarily in the South) routinely tried people without providing them with an attorney. An interesting book. ( )
  gbelik | Mar 10, 2015 |
While not an attorney, I have always been interested in the law - the good and the bad. This book reads like a documentary and is instructive in how the absolute right to legal representation came to be the standard of practice in this country. Excellent!
  junebedell | Jan 2, 2015 |
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Clarence Earl Gideon, a semi-literate drifter, is arrested for breaking into a pool room and for petty theft. When he asks the court to appoint a lawyer for his defense because he cannot afford one, his request is denied. Acting as his own lawyer, Gideon is convicted and sent to jail. While in prison, he begins a hand-written campaign directed to the U.S. Supreme Court, contending that every defendant is entitled to legal representation. The Court agrees to hear Gideon's case, and, in a landmark decision, rules in his favor.

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