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Copyright (c) 2003 University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
UMKC Law Review

ARTICLES: Mourning and Celebrating Gideon's Fortieth

Winter, 2003

72 UMKC L. Rev. 515


Penny J. White 2


"Each era finds an improvement in law for the benefit of mankind." 1


On the fortieth anniversary of my birth, some "friends" asked me to leave my house for the day so they could prepare it for the evening's festivities. I returned to find a tombstone in the front yard which read "Here Lies the Youth of PJW," a casket on the front porch, and a house full of mourners dressed in black, including one "reverend" who presided over the service commemorating the burial of my youth. Someone commented that only self-absorbed yuppies could make what should be a celebration such a sorrowful occasion. In the end, however, even the dark drab of the mourners and the sad sermon eulogizing my youth could not contain the celebration of what was yet to come.

This year, the legal profession recognized the fortieth anniversary of the birth of the right to counsel for the indigent accused. 4 lamenting the failure to realize the promise for which Gideon stood. While the profession uniformly "celebrated" the decision, few found reason to celebrate its application. This poses two obvious questions: is the somber tone surrounding Gideon's fortieth anniversary deserved or have we unfairly transformed what should be a celebration into a wake? And if mourning is appropriate at this juncture, forty years after recognizing the right, will progress toward full recognition of the right to counsel ultimately carry the day?

About ten years ...
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