Constitutional Law

Top judge cites Gideon case, says lack of Calif. court funding threatens loss of civil rights

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Citing the famous Gideon v. Wainright case, in which a prison inmate’s pro se petition, handwritten in pencil, resulted in U.S. Supreme Court ruling recognizing a defendant’s constitutional right to counsel, the top judge in California said a lack of public funding for the state’s courts threatens to turn back the clock on civil rights.

Just as important as the right to counsel recognized by the nation’s top court in the 1960s is the ability to get to court. Yet California court closures and staff layoffs due to the state’s budget crisis are effectively preventing access, said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in her annual state of the judiciary address to California lawmakers on Monday. The state’s courts have lost 65 percent of their general funding during the past five years, reports the Los Angeles Times.

“Justice requires a court,” said Cantil-Sakauye, pointing out that throughout the state have been closed because of budget cuts. “But what we once counted on—that courts would be open, available and ready to dispense prompt justice—no longer exists in California.”

Some individuals in the state now must reportedly drive two hours, one way, to get to court. Those without cars face even greater barriers to access.

Related coverage:

ABA Journal: “Fifty years after Gideon, lawyers still struggle to provide counsel to the indigent”

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