May 08, 2019

National Advocacy Groups & Civil Rights Leaders Applaud Harris’ EQUAL Defense Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday introduced the EQUAL Defense Act, legislation to support the nation’s public defenders and ensure that every American has access to counsel, national public defender advocates and civil rights leaders released statements in support of the bill.

The EQUAL Defense Act would establish a new $250 million grant program to establish workload limits for public defenders, create pay parity between public defenders and prosecutors, fund additional training for public defenders, and provide loan repayment assistance to public defenders.

To learn more about the legislation, click here.

  • “Public defenders have largely been ignored in the national conversation around criminal justice reform.  At Gideon’s Promise, we recognize that this omission has been detrimental to the broader effort to realize equal justice.  The right to counsel is a constitutional obligation, which means the federal government must make a commitment to ensuring states and localities live up to this promise.  The EQUAL Defense Act of 2019 is a recognition that public defenders must be an important part of our criminal justice reform thinking.  It recognizes that the promise of equal justice requires that public defenders have meaningful workload controls.  It recognizes that we must retain good public defenders by providing them fair compensation and educational debt relief.  It recognizes the importance of comprehensive training, mentorship, and leadership development to build client-centered public defender organizations that tackle difficult cultural challenges.   The Sixth Amendment establishes effective counsel as the lynchpin to justice in our courts.  I am hopeful that this Act prompts us to continue to understand public defenders as a critical piece of the criminal justice solution, and to build on its important foundation to ensure marginalized communities have the advocates necessary to fulfill our democratic promise of equal justice.” – Jon Rapping, President & Founder, Gideon’s Promise

  • “The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law applauds Sen. Kamala Harris’ introduction of the EQUAL Defense Act of 2019, a bill designed to promote the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the right to a fair trial and the right to an attorney for every individual charged with a crime. The warning signs of crisis are clear, yet the provision of counsel for indigent defendants has been an afterthought in the fight to secure criminal justice reform.  This bill helps bring us closer to the day when the promise of Gideon vs. Wainwright is fully realized and all defendants receive the effective assistance of counsel who have the capacity and resources necessary to zealously represent their clients’ interests during each critical phase of trial,” – Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights

  • “Just outcomes start with making sure that each side of our adversarial system is adequately funded and resourced.  That public defenders should earn as much as their counterparts in the prosecutor’s office is beyond question. So too must court-appointed attorneys receive fair compensation rather than the absurdly low rates utilized in many jurisdictions, where private lawyers are essentially subsidizing the state’s constitutional obligation. NACDL is pleased to support the EQUAL Defense Act of 2019, which would help move us closer to securing the foundations of the Sixth Amendment by assuring everyone accused of a crime has a skilled, effective, and zealous advocate by their side.” – Drew Findling, President, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

  • “The National Association for Public Defense (NAPD), an organization comprised of 20,000 public defense employees, supports Senator Harris’ Public Defense bill.  NAPD appreciates Senator Harris’ recognition of the country’s thousands of public defenders who toil daily in the criminal justice system on behalf of its poorest and most marginalized participants.” – Paul DeWolfe, Chair, National Association for Public Defense

  • “The EQUAL Defense Act would make a historic investment in our nation’s fundamental promise of equal justice under law. The right to counsel is enshrined in our constitution, but this means little if the public defenders tasked with protecting due process and ensuring that every person receives a fair trial are denied the time and resources they need to provide effective representation. A quality public defense with adequate resources not only makes it less likely that a person will be wrongfully or unnecessarily incarcerated, but it can also reduce recidivism by helping to resolve the problems that led them to justice system involvement in the first place. The unprecedented federal support for public defense in this bill would directly and meaningfully impact the delivery of the right to counsel. It also makes a powerful statement about the role of effective public defense as an equal and indispensable component of our justice systems by creating incentives for implementing pay parity and reasonable workload limits. We strongly commend the leadership of Senator Harris in introducing this legislation and we urge Congress to pass the EQUAL Defense Act.” – Jo-Ann Wallace, President & CEO of National Legal Aid & Defender Association

  • “The right to counsel is guaranteed in the Constitution because the founders recognized its vital role in preventing government abuse and overreach in our system of justice. The EQUAL Defense Act appropriately seeks to even the playing field in courts across the country so that justice is meted out evenly and fairly, and not dependent upon whether the accused has enough money to afford a lawyer.” – Sarah Tuberville, Director of the Constitution Project, Project on Government Oversight