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Triumph of the Law
on February 8, 2001
Clarence Earl Gideon, petty thief, did at least two things right in his life. He preserved his record by requesting the appointment of a lawyer for him, and he filed a timely petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
Ironically, although the Florida courts denied Gideon legal represention, the Justices appointed Abe Fortas, soon to be one of their brothers, to argue his cause. His victory, forever establishing the right of the poor to counsel in felony cases in America, was one of the landmark cases of the Warren Court.
As importantly, this book illustrates law at the human level. This is where practioners routinely encounter it. Cases studied in law school are sterile, stripping the humanity and drama from the litigants, and replacing them with rules of decision and conduct necessary for societal regulation. The distillation of fact contained within an appellate decision, even a landmark, pales in comparison to the human beings who create the cause.
Anthony Lewis's book should point law students and young lawyers to the deeper lessons of practice. Law is about people; and we, as lawyers, are their servants.