The National Right to Counsel Committee

Decades after the United States Supreme Court ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright and other landmark Supreme Court decisions, which recognized the constitutional right to counsel for defendants facing the possibility of imprisonment who could not afford to hire a lawyer, many states and localities still fail to provide competent criminal defense counsel. In much of the country, insufficient funding and oversight of public defender systems has led to unacceptable caseloads, supervision, and training, resulting in inadequate representation. Too often the representation is perfunctory and so deficient as not to amount to representation at all.

The Constitution Project established its National Right to Counsel Committee to address this problem. The Committee comprises all facets of the criminal justice system, including current and former judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, police, and victim advocates. The Committee seeks to effect change that will light the way toward genuine and lasting improvement in the delivery of indigent defense services in America, thus enhancing the quality of justice for all.

In 2009, the National Right to Counsel Committee released its seminal report, Justice Denied: America’s Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel. The report presents 22 consensus recommendations. The committee calls upon states to properly fund and administer indigent defense systems, but also calls upon other players, such as the federal government, state bar associations, prosecutors, and judges, to step up and address the crisis facing the country. The Constitution Project is working to promote the recommendations in Justice Denied in states across the country.


Rhoda Billings
Professor Emeritus, Wake Forest Law School; Chief Justice, North Carolina Supreme Court, 1985-1986, Judge, State District Court, 1968-1972

Robert M. A. Johnson
District Attorney, Anoka County, Minnesota; former President, National District Attorneys Association

Hon. Timothy K. Lewis
Co-Chair, Appellate Practice Group, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP; Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, 1992-1999; Judge, United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, 1991-1992; Assistant United States Attorney, Western District of Pennsylvania, 1983-1991; Assistant District Attorney, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, 1980-1983

Walter Mondale
(Honorary Co-Chair) Senior Counsel, Dorsey & Whitney LLP; Vice President of the United States, 1977-1981; United States Senator (D-MN), 1964-1977; Minnesota Attorney General, 1960-1964, who organized the amicus brief of 22 states in favor of Clarence Gideon in Gideon v. Wainwright

William S. Sessions
(Honorary Co-Chair) Partner, Holland and Knight LLP; Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1987-1993; Judge, United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, 1974-1987, Chief Judge, 1980-1987


Shawn Marie Armbrust
Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project; former Northwestern journalism student who helped exonerate death row inmate Anthony Porter

Jay W. Burnett 
Adjunct Law Professor South Texas College of Law: Texas Criminal Procedure’ Former Judge, 351st Criminal District Court, Harris County Texas, appointed 1984; Judge, 183rd Criminal District Court, Harris County, Texas, 1986-1998; Visiting Criminal District Judge, 2nd Judicial Administrative Region of Texas, 1999-2000

Tony Fabelo
Director of Research, Justice Center of the Council of State Governments; Senior Associate The JFA Institute, 2003-2005; Executive Director, Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council, 1991-2003

Norman S. Fletcher
Of Counsel, Brinson, Askew, Berry, Seigler, Richardson & Davis; Justice, Supreme Court of Georgia, 1989-2005, Chief Justice, 2001-2005

Monroe H. Freedman
Professor of Law, 1973-present, and Dean, 1973-1977, Hofstra University School of Law

Stephen F. Hanlon
Professor of Practice, Saint Louis University School of Law

Susan Herman
Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Human Services, Pace University; former Executive Director, National Center for Victims of Crime

Bruce R. Jacob
Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, Stetson University College of Law; former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, represented Florida in Gideon v. Wainwright

Abe Krash
Retired Partner, Arnold & Porter LLP; former Visiting Lecturer, Yale Law School; Adjunct Professor, the Georgetown University Law Center; represented Clarence Gideon in Gideon v. Wainwright

Norman Lefstein
Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus, Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis

Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.
Founding and Executive Director, Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Harvard Law School

Bryan Stevenson
Director, Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama; Professor of Law, New York University School of Law

Larry D. Thompson
Senior Vice President & General Counsel, PepsiCo, Inc.; Deputy Attorney General of the United States, 2001-2003; United States Attorney, Northern District of Georgia, 1982-1986

Hubert Williams
President, Police Foundation; former New Jersey Police Director; former Special Advisor to the Los Angeles Police Commission


Norman Lefstein
Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus, Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis

Robert Spangenberg
Founder and Research Professor, The Spangenberg Project, George Mason University Center for Law, Justice & Society




Donate Now

US Constitution