Ketanji Brown Jackson was a public defender. Here’s why that’s a great thing.

About a quarter of a century ago, when I was a freshman, unprepared assistant law professor in Oregon, the new governor of the state nominated me to join the newly formed Criminal Justice Commission. I worked for the governor’s campaign, drafting a position paper that enabled him to win unexpected support from a Democrat, a police group, and a rural sheriff in a very difficult year. This panel was tasked with examining issues of state and local criminal justice. My appointment was not exactly a reward. It promised a lot of hard work and paid off, but I was proud to have the opportunity to serve my new homeland.

But it wasn’t happening. The new Republican majority in the state Senate rejected my nomination. After my second year of law school, I spent the summer as a clerk in the Federal Public Defender’s Office in New Mexico. I know the FPD stunt was the only reason I was rejected because no one in the Senate Republican caucus knew who I was. I use my middle name, Garrett, for all professional practice and writing. Republican senators boldly declared that they opposed “George Apes”. (Actually, at first, I thought they were opposing my saintly Uncle George, in his grave for many years after a false career dealing card at the Alex Club in Richmond, Virginia.)

Regardless of the nominee, “George Apps” was rejected by a one-floor vote, ending my short political career.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is also a veteran of the Federal Defender Service. Republicans in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee have cited significant reasons for opposing his nomination to the Supreme Court. One of the minors is his two-year service in the office of the Federal Public Defender in the District of Columbia. If (presumably) he is confirmed, he will be the only member of the court who has significant experience as a defense lawyer. Two members of the court – Justice Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor – were prosecutors. The last judge to represent a significant number of defendants was Thegood Marshall, who left the bench in 1991.

Of course, this is not the most historic thing about Jackson’s nomination. Nor is the Republican senators’ misrepresentation of the role of public defenders their biggest crime against decency. But at that great historical moment, his confirmation, another short history will be made: Jackson will be the first justice to pass through the Federal Defender’s Service, created by Congress half a century ago, which had a statutory mission. The federal government provides adequate defense to defendants who cannot afford to hire their own lawyers.

I, too, had a ridiculous confirmation hearing, where I was asked the right question (and others are equally sympathetic): “Do you ever know someone who was later sentenced to death for another crime?” Republican senators asked if I had spent eight weeks as a public defender using “technology” to get convicted criminals out of prison. The idea that not everyone with a proper defense or the defendants could all be convicted in Salem in 1995, cut a little like ice in Oregon as it seemed in 2022 on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

My meeting with the Oregon State Senate gives me the tiniest taste of what it feels like to be a Jackson হ a ham-fisted, racially entitled laut loudly declaring that certain legal actions are a moral stain on a nominee, a disease, and a danger to the Republic.

In fact, FPD service lawyers are among the sharpest and most ethical attorneys I have ever met. FPD work is rewarding. The salary is not royal but adequate. The work is fascinating, and the caseloads are manageable. The FPD attorneys I worked with were determined and unwavering যে any of us attorneys would be grateful to represent us if we ever had problems.

During that New Mexico summer, I learned that someone, innocent or guilty, does not have to rely on the goodwill of those who enforce the law and those who try the accused criminals. Both have blind spots and moral flaws like other people. I have also learned that criminal defendants sometimes lie, and their lawyers must do what they can to prevent them from lying. Law enforcement personnel sometimes lie, and defense attorneys must know the facts thoroughly and make sure they are on the record, even when prosecutors and judges are hostile if they want to prevent these lies from interfering with justice and ruining a life. I have learned that whether innocent or guilty, defendants are usually terrified. In addition, they may be: prepared against the irresistible power of their state government — or, for our clients, the US government, along with thousands of its agents, the FBI, Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Drug Enforcement Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, National Park Service and Martial Service নাম just to name a few.

No case has taught me as much as the drug prosecution that Fedra trumpeted, but it was published as a nightmare of government corruption. In June 1990, the FBI and Customs Service agents arrested three people at a New Mexico motel. The U.S. attorney charged them with distributing 1,646 pounds of cocaine while in the U.S., which landed on a private plane at Albuquerque Airport that day. Our Public Defender’s Office was assigned to represent one of these so-called cartel supervillains.

The Customs Service and the FBI held a press conference prior to the arrest, where Customs agent Michael Lappe announced that “these drugs are a direct result of the Colombian Cali cartel.” The shipment that went to Albuquerque is not considered a major entry point for the drug trade: “It shows that the cartels are using extraordinary means to smuggle drugs,” he added.

In fact, by the end of the summer, it became clear that those drugs (the cost of the road, brave federal agents told the press, $ 74 million) were part of a “sting” operation in the United States that was funded and operated by the federal government itself; Our government is using “extraordinary means” for drug trafficking; And the so-called drug lords might have stayed in Colombia if the government had not made sophisticated and well-funded efforts to convince them of drug trafficking so that bureaucrats could appear in public.

A federal court later found that taxpayer funds were used to buy cocaine in Colombia; A U.S. government-owned ship, led by a federal employee, then sailed the drugs to Puerto Rico, where government agents transferred the cocaine to a seaplane operated by a customs service informant, who then took them (once off fuel) to Albuquerque. The men arrested at the motel, including two brothers of Colombian descent, were hired by a paying informant to take drugs. A subsequent summary of the operation, as reported by the House of Representatives Committee, “led the customs media to believe that cocaine delivery in the state of New Mexico was planned and carried out by drug traffickers, when in fact, the customs raided.”[d] Delivered a pilot, an aircraft, a ship and took delivery from the Colombians. “

This bizarre scheme (ostensibly only to increase official drug recovery figures) was utterly evil. To me, the worst of all is that when our clients and other fraudsters appealed for their conviction, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals quickly dismissed their claim, saying that “although the government was heavily involved in the cocaine smuggling scheme.” , His involvement did not rise to the level of offensive behavior. ” I still wonder how bad the government misconduct can be to awaken the comfortable conscience of those judges.

This is the lesson of the time spent in the office of a public defender: the government can do almost anything it wants and the court, the so-called guardian of our freedom, will usually follow suit. The government can and will spend nicely to show itself strong, and if it accidentally destroys the lives of the powerless, no one in power will pay special attention. Without those who are intelligent, determined and independent to speak on their behalf, those targeted by the government have very little chance of escaping the trap, whether they are innocent or guilty.

I have learned that even though it is a phrase, the motto of every good defense lawyer can be: “I speak for this person, whatever his sin. When I entered the bar, I swore that the government would abide by its own laws. When I can speak, the government will treat my client as a human being, not a thing. Without a proactive defense, the criminal “justice” is merely a brutal force against the powerless, with the unbearable self-esteem of the powerful in power.

Ketanji Brown Jackson, in his two years with the FPD, has represented Guantanamo, Cuba, of alleged terrorists. These people are human beings, and our own Supreme Court has said that they have rights under the Constitution, and these rights mean nothing but legal protection. I would be proud to sign my name in briefs to test their captivity, not because I liked them but because the government and the courts must abide by the law.

My first assignment in the Albuquerque FPD was to write a petition for review in the US Supreme Court, arguing that the jury that convicted our client (who was spending time in federal prison) had wrongly voted for them was unconstitutionally rendered unconstitutional. The judges rejected our request without comment.

Towards the end of the summer, however, I received a letter with the prison inmate’s number on the return address. The client whose application was rejected by the court wanted me to know how much he appreciated what I wrote for him. He said all the boys in his cell block agreed that this was the best sertory petition they had ever read.

I never worked in that criminal justice commission. I will never be a judge or argue in the Supreme Court. But at the end of my career, as a professor and a writer, I spoke for a person who would otherwise have no one to speak for. I will remember the kindness of the man I never saw but who reached out to thank me for my work.

Jackson’s senatorial tormentors have spent their lives serving those in power and creating new ways to torment those in power. In their past work and their present behavior I see no sign of human feelings towards anyone but myself and those who can help them climb the fat poles of society.

In the midst of so much joy in this historic moment, I am glad that the subsequent judgment of the Supreme Court has sometimes spoken in favor of those who would otherwise have no voice.

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