Sia M. Sanneh
Originally published 03/25/2013
Stephen B. Bright, who teaches at Yale Law School, is president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. Sia M. Sanneh, Senior Liman Fellow at Yale Law School, is an attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama.March 18 marked the fiftieth anniversary of one of the Supreme Court’s most celebrated decisions, Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the Court unanimously declared that poor people accused of crimes are entitled to lawyers and that every person “stands equal before the law.” But resistance to—and outright defiance of—this landmark ruling endures. Fairness and equality are in short supply in the criminal courts, which have incarcerated 2.3 million people, a grossly disproportionate number of them people of color. Because a major consequence of poverty is often inadequate representation, racial discrimination in the system as a whole—from stops by police, to disparities in charging, to the exclusion of blacks and Latinos from juries, to the severity of sentences—often goes unchallenged and even unremarked upon.