U.S. needs to press states over justice for the poor
The March 9 editorial "Fulfilling Gideon's promise" was absolutely right to commend Attorney General Eric H. Holder for trying to improve legal services for poor people facing criminal charges.
As detailed in the Constitution Project report to which the editorial referred (and which our foundation was proud to support), the problem is not just people getting inadequate legal services; it's often that they get no legal services at all. Not only is this a blatant violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, but it raises the risk of innocent people being imprisoned or executed.
But the editorial's recommendations for Mr. Holder -- to provide gentle incentives for states to do better -- fell short. Why did you concede that "the Justice Department cannot force changes on the states?" Why shouldn't department officials be more forceful? Why shouldn't they flatly deny generous federal grants to states that flagrantly violate the constitutional right to counsel? Why shouldn't they be able to sue states that don't seem to care, the way they already sue states over unconstitutional civil rights violations?
When federal officials take the oath of office, they swear to uphold the Constitution -- not "most of the Constitution, with the exception of the Sixth Amendment."
Scott Wallace, Washington
The writer is co-chairman of the Wallace Global Fund. He was director of defender legal services with the National Legal Aid and Defender Association from 1996 to 2003.