Nothing less than the 6th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees those accused of crime the right to legal counsel.
But you’ll find no political protection for lawyers who fill that constitutional role for people accused of crimes, particularly those who do so as court-appointed public defenders. It can be damaging.
The Washington Post reports on political candidates who’ve faced negative campaign attacks for representing accused. Tim Cullen, recently defeated for Supreme Court in a race in which he was slammed for court appointed appellate work, and Hillary Clinton both were mentioned.
Clinton is on the griddle — again — for a 39-year-old case written about extensively in her 2008 presidential campaign. She was appointed to represent an accused child rapist. He got a plea bargained short sentence. Now she’s under fire for a previously unreported interview eight years ago about the case. She did her job. To do otherwise would have been malpractice. But, well, you read.
And consider these numbers:
The Congressional Research Service compiled data on the composition of the 113th Congress earlier this year. Congress includes more than 200 members that have a background in practicing law, including “7 former judges (all in the House), and 32 prosecutors … who have served in city, county, state, federal, or military capacities.” Prosecutors get to run on their record of putting criminals away. Defenders don’t. A search of the House’s historic database of information on members turns up five members of the House since 2000 who list work as public defenders in their biographies. One is no longer in Congress. Another later worked as a prosecutor.