The Atlantic posts, "In Texas, From a Chief Justice, Welcome Candor About Unequal Justice," by Andrew Cohen.
Last Wednesday, in Austin, Texas, a remarkable thing happened. In a state where the promise of equal justice under law often is a farce, where poor people and people of color far too often are subject to unfair treatment by prosecutors, police, judges, jailors and jurors, the Chief Justice of the state supreme court spoke out at length with great clarity and candor about the desperate legal conditions of his fellow Texans and the immediate need to secure for them all the right to "liberty and justice." (Note good update below).
Wallace B. Jefferson, the first black justice on the state's supreme court, the first black chief justice of the state's supreme court, the man appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry to replace Alberto Gonzales, offered his remarks in his annual "State of the Judiciary" address and his timing could hardly be better. Next week, America marks the 50th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which was designed to secure the right to counsel for people too poor to afford their own attorney.
Jefferson's speech is yet another detailed reminder of how far we've come from the premise and the promise of Gideon. (Last week, on this topic, I wrote here about the Alabama case of Christopher Lee Price, a death row inmate whose constitutional right to counsel has been consistently denied by the courts. Next week, in advance of the March 18th anniversary of the decision, we'll be posting here at The Atlantic a special piece on the legacy of Gideon).
"Chief Justice Pushes for 'Innocence Commission'," is Maurice Chammah's coverage for the Texas Tribune.
At his biennial speech in front of the Legislature, Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson reiterated his calls for more funding for civil legal aid, indigent defense and juvenile justice reform, and pushed for the establishment of an "innocence commission" to investigate wrongful convictions.
Presenting his State of the Judiciary speech to Texas lawmakers, Jefferson said that "wrongful convictions leave our citizens vulnerable, as actual perpetrators remain free" and recommended the Legislature create a commission "to investigate each instance of exoneration, to assess the likelihood of wrongful convictions in future cases, and to establish statewide reforms." He cited the recent exoneration of Michael Morton, who spent nearly 25 years in prison for murder.
The creation of such a commission nearly passed in 2011, but failed at the last minute. Part of the opposition has come from Jeff Blackburn, chief legal counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, a nonprofit organization that attempts to overturn wrongful convictions and investigate why they happen in the first place. He said recently that such a commission would have to be “extremely well-funded,” and would more likely become “a paper commission that would give a lot of people an excuse to turn away from a lot of the real issues we face in the criminal justice system."