Author Archives: Katharina Hering

Featured Collection in Honor of World Refugee Day: Haitian Refugee/Alien Rights Collection

In honor of World Refugee Day, the National Equal Justice Library is highlighting its Haitian Refugee/Alien Rights collection.

In the summer of 1981, the U.S. government implemented a policy to detain all undocumented Haitians in the United States in detention centers in six states and in Puerto Rico. In a national class action suit filed by the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami, U.S. District Judge Eugene P. Spellman held that the governmental policy was not adopted in accordance with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. The court then invalidated the detention policy [Louis, et. al. v. Nelson, Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization Service, et al., Case No. 81-1260-CIV-EPS (S.D. Fla. 1982)]. The approximately 2,000 Haitian refugees who were held in detention centers were then released. While the government announced it would appeal the decision, human rights and refugee rights groups – including the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Lawyers’ Committee for International Human Rights —  organized a campaign to secure pro bono legal representation for the refugees. Lawyers helped at three stages of the process: to prepare asylum requests, to prepare and conduct hearings, and to prepare appeals. The Haitian Refugee/Alien Rights collection documents this significant collective effort. Publicly available materials include newspaper articles, reports, memos, as well as pleadings, briefs and other documents that were filed with the courts. We are currently working on an inventory of the collection. For access to the collection, please contact the NEJL.

Blog entry prepared by Courtney Snelling, LL.M., and Katharina Hering.


Featured collection: NEJL oral histories; Gideon v. Wainwright interviews

Among the unique resources in the National Equal Justice Library are 74 oral histories of lawyers and other advocates who helped found and sustain criminal and civil legal services programs for the indigent. The goal of the oral history project is to capture the experiences of these lawyers and other advocates so that future generations can learn from these experiences. It is also designed to help inspire and guide lawyers to take on the goal of fighting for equal justice under law.

Since this is the 50th Anniversary of the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright case, we would like to highlight the video recordings of three critical figures in the Gideon case: Abe Krash, Bruce Jacob, and Anthony Lewis. Victor Geminiani conducted each interview as part of the 1993 celebration of the 30th anniversary of the case. Videos of all interviews as well as transcripts are available on the NEJL website.

Abe Krash, a Georgetown Law faculty member, worked for Arnold, Fortas & Porter at the time, and assisted Abe Fortas in researching the issues and writing the brief for the case. In the interview, Krash recalled his extraordinary experience of working for Fortas.

Bruce Jacob argued the case on behalf of the State of Florida as a young Assistant Attorney General. In the oral history interview, Jacob recalls the “brutal” oral argument in front of the Supreme Court. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Florida created its own public defender system, and Jacob volunteered as a special assistant public defender in Florida.

Another interview available in our collection is that of the late Anthony Lewis. He died just days after the 50th Anniversary of the Gideon’s case. Lewis covered the Gideon case as a Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times. He then went on to write the definitive history of the litigation. Gideon’s Trumpet, published in 1964 was also the basis of the film of the same name. The library screened the film during the recent Georgetown Law Library Equal Justice Film Festival. In the oral history, Lewis recalls how he became involved in the case after seeing Gideon’s petition in the Supreme Court file room on the day the Court agreed to hear the case. He also recalled the experience of meeting Clarence Gideon in the prison library of the Raiford Penitentiary.

“Lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries”

Library recognizes 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright with exhibit, film screening, research guide

Fifty years ago, on Monday, March 18, 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overruled its own 1942 decision in Betts v. Brady. The Court mandated that states must provide lawyers for persons who are facing serious criminal charges, and who cannot afford counsel. Gideon v. Wainwright was a reflection of the broad awareness toward poverty at the time (President Johnson declared the War on Poverty in 1964), paving the way for the establishment -and improvement of — public defender structures and systems in all U.S. states. The case had broad constitutional implications, and represented a victory for the position that the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights were applicable to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. One of the leading advocates of that position was Justice Hugo Black, who wrote the option of the Court. “Any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him…lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries.” 

In recognition of this significant anniversary, Georgetown Law Library is featuring an exhibition about the case. In addition, we will screen Gideon’s Trumpet tonight, kicking off the Equal Justice Film Festival, and will also launch an indigent defense research guide.

The exhibit in the atrium of the E.B. Williams Law Library tells the story of Gideon v. Wainwright based on materials from the National Equal Justice Library’s collections, including the Gideon’s Trumpet script and stills collection, and other items. The 1980 TV movie Gideon’s Trumpet was based on Anthony Lewis’ book with the same title, which was initially published in 1964. The movie followed the book closely, but the director also took some artistic freedoms. Photographs in the exhibit, for example, contrast the 1963 Warren Court with the Hollywood Supreme Court. Sam Jaffe, representing Felix Frankfurter, remained on the Hollywood court, while in fact he had already resigned from the Supreme Court. As one of the supporters of Betts v. Brady, he was left on the Hollywood court to represent the opinion skeptical of overturning the 1942 decision.

The movie ends with Gideon’s acquittal after a second trial, where he was represented by an attorney (Fred Turner). But what happened after the happy ending? “It’s fair to say that all of the hopes that we had have not been fulfilled,” said Abe Krash, a Georgetown Law faculty member who worked on Abe Fortas defense team for Clarence Gideon, in an NEJL oral history interview. Later this spring, the library will continue its Gideon anniversary programs, and will be highlighting the General Charles L. Decker/NLADA collection in another exhibit, which will address some of the challenges of implementing and sustaining Gideon’s mandate following the 1963 decision.

In addition to the oral history with Abe Krash, the NEJL collections include oral history interviews with Bruce Jacob, who argued against Gideon on behalf of the State of Florida as a young Assistant Attorney General, and with Anthony Lewis, the author of Gideon’s Trumpet (1964), who followed the case as a reporter. Full videos and transcripts of the interviews can be accessed at:

Please join us for the screening of Gideon’s Trumpet tonight:

Upcoming 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright

In preparation for the upcoming 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the National Equal Justice Library, within Georgetown Law Library, would like to highlight a few unique materials from our collections that relate to the history of the case, and that document its impact on the development of public defender systems in the United States.

On March 18, 1963, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that states had the obligation to provide counsel for defendants who are unable to afford an attorney, extending the Constitutional right to counsel in criminal cases to poor and low-income people. By highlighting the responsibility of the government to provide legal counsel to low-income Americans, Gideon was a landmark case in the equal justice movement in the United States, paving the way for the creation and expansion of the public defender system in the country.

Among the unique NEJL materials are oral history interviews with several key participants in the case, including an interview with Abe Krash, who worked closely with Abe Fortas on Gideon’s defense team, and an interview with Bruce Jacob, who argued against Gideon on behalf of the State of Florida as a young Assistant Attorney General. Transcripts of both interviews are available online at:

The collection also includes an interview with Anthony Lewis, the author of Gideon’s Trumpet (1964), who followed the case as a reporter, and David Rintel’s movie script of Gideon’s Trumpet, as well as some still pictures and advertisements of the 1980 movie featuring Henry Fonda as Clarence Gideon. In addition, the NEJL holds a set of photocopies of original documents from the case, including copies of Clarence Gideon’s petition for writ of habeas corpus with the Supreme Court of Florida, and transcripts from the State of Florida v. Clarence Earl Gideon (1962).

Collections documenting the development and state of indigent criminal defense in the United States include the papers of James Doherty, who served as Public Defender of Cook County, Illinois, the papers of Sheldon Portman, the former Public Defender of Santa Clara County, CA, and the papers the papers of Marshall Hartman, one of the leading figures of the public defender movement in the United States. Special Collections also holds the papers of General Charles L. Decker, a Georgetown Law graduate, who was a key participant in the drafting of the Model Defender Act of 1970, and the Director of the National Defender Project of the NLADA.

Researchers are welcome to visit the NEJL, and our Special Collections Department.

Contact: Katharina Hering, NEJL Project Archivist 202-662-4043 (NEJL)
Special Collections Department: 202-662-9149