There are few constitutional provisions more important than the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a right to defense counsel. That civil liberty, which applies even for indigent defendants who can’t afford their own attorney, is the cornerstone of the United States criminal justice system and a critical component of due process. In the legal community, it’s understood that criticizing an attorney who defends an unpopular defendant—especially a public defender assigned to an impoverished client—is inappropriate, offensive, and unprofessional. Public defenders who represent disreputable defendants are fulfilling the requirements of the Constitution; to condemn them for doing so is, in a very real sense, to condemn the Sixth Amendment itself.
But in the brewing nomination fight over a replacement for Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, the Judicial Crisis Network has thrown that long-held understanding out the window. An arch-conservative group lobbying congressional Republicans to block any Obama nominee, the JCN has begun preemptively smearing names on the president’s Supreme Court shortlist. Recently, JCN chief counsel Carrie Severino penned a reprehensible article in National Review targeting Jane Kelly, a federal judge who previously served as a public defender and has been discussed as a potential Scalia replacement. Severino highlighted Kelly’s defense of Casey Frederiksen, a convicted child molester who was accused of child pornography possession. Kelly helped negotiate a plea deal for Frederiksen, in part by noting that his psychologist believed he was not a threat to society. In other words, she did her job. Full Article