The Champion

January/February 2003 , Page 18 

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The Vindication of Hugo Black

By Gerald F. Uelmen

If the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright stands for anything, it stands for the right of a criminal accused to a vigorous defense. Too often we assume we delivered on the “right to counsel” by just giving the defendant a lawyer — any lawyer — to stand or sleep at his side and whisper some assurances in his ear before he pleads guilty. That’s not the “right to counsel” that Justice Hugo Black had in mind when he wrote the Gideon opinion. What he really had in mind were the lessons learned in two earlier cases, the only precedents he relied upon in his Gideon opinion.

Powell v. Alabama,1 the famous “Scottsboro Boys” case, was well known to Hugo Black. He was representing the state of Alabama in the United States Senate throughout the infamous trial. In Powell, a very conservative Supreme Court reversed the death judgments of nine young black men convicted of raping two white girls. Although the trial court had appointed counsel for the defendants, the Supreme Court conclud

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