For all the well-reasoned complaints about the Obama administration’s legal jujitsu, I often find myself smiling when Eric Holder–the first black Attorney General–takes the podium. Now, let me be clear, we don’t agree on everything, but a good amount of the time, I’m proud to call AG Holder the racial conscious of Obama. His courage and effectiveness tackling issues of particular importance to people of color–racial inequities in the criminal justice system–far outweigh the work of any other law enforcement official at the national level. Holder’s latest work, a thinly veiled scheme to force states and counties to fully fund and effectively manage public defender programs so that defendants are given adequate and robust representation that mirrors their constitutional guarantees from 1963.
Holder’s latest foray into bringing equity for people of color, low income folks and those facing the criminal justice system at all levels follows his action in Washington State. In WA, Holder supported local orgs charging that two WA city’s criminal justice and public defense systems were so lopsided that they were an essentially an affront to justice. This suit was won, and the judge forced substantial changes upon the region. Holder is now filing a brief in a case against the State of New York and Gov. Cuomo charging essential the same thing here. If successful, this case (I believe brought by the ACLU), would force a state takeover of county and local and public defender systems. In New York, the state tends to charge cities and towns with the responsibility of the carrying out public defender systems, however, these localities have neither “the tax base or the political will” to afford such undertakings. In any case, this has resulted in a patchwork of systems and a patchwork of standards of care and justice. See the article linked above to see the grotesque results this. In my opinion, as a constitutional right, public defenders should be provided by the federal government and equally funded. Or, if ruled by state by necessity or politic, the state should be forced fund public defenders and prosecutors equally for each (criminal) case and, all examiners, state experts, scientists and police should be independent agencies responsible to facts that are then reported to the court and parties to the case.