Today, thousands of public defenders around the United States represent indigent defendants in criminal proceedings. At a moment of widespread concern about mass incarceration and racial and class inequality, public defenders are seen both as participants in, and adversaries of, the carceral state. The introduction to this book provides an overview of how public defenders became so widespread in American courtrooms. At the turn of the twentieth century, many elite lawyers expressed skepticism about the public defender. They posited that the legal profession should remain independent from the state as much as possible, and that indigent defense was better handled by private charity. They established voluntary defender organizations. But by the 1960s, prevailing views had changed. Many elite lawyers now endorsed the public defender, especially after the Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which expanded the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The book argues that these developments can be explained by shifts in liberalism and how lawyers conceived of the profession’s place within liberal democracy.
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