Criminal Defendants “Left Behind” at the Supreme Court

Adam Liptak of the NY Times analyzes the weakness of representation for criminal defendants whose cases reach the US Supreme Court. The primary factor, according to Liptak, is vanity: lawyers in those very rare cases that make it to the Court don’t want to pass the once-in-a-lifetime chance to argue there, and so most are by definition inexperienced.

Lipton cites another difficulty facing criminal defendants in the Supreme Court: Six of the eight members of the current court have worked in prosecutors’ offices. Four of them served in the Justice Department; Justice Clarence Thomas was an assistant attorney general of Missouri; and Justice Sotomayor was an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. Should the Senate confirm President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland, the court would gain a former Justice Department official who supervised the prosecutions of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and of Theodore J. Kaczynski, the Unabomber.With Judge Garland on the court, the justices would have a total of 36 years of prosecutorial experience, the most in at least four decades.

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