124 Penn. L. Rev. Online 33, 2015
18 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2015
Date Written: February 16, 2015
For the last several years, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has quietly attempted to curtail capital defendants’ representation in state postconviction proceedings. In 2011, various justices on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court began to call for federally funded community defender organizations to stop representing capital defendants in state postconviction proceedings. The justices argued, among other things, that the organizations’ representation of capital defendants constituted impermissible federal interference with state governmental processes and burdened state judicial resources. The court also alleged the community defender organizations were in violation of federal statutes, which only authorized the organizations to assist state prisoners in federal, but not state, court. It did not take long for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office to pick up on these signals. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, sometimes on its own motion and sometimes at the invitation of the District Attorney’s Office, issued orders disqualifying federal community defender organizations from representing prisoners in individual state postconviction proceedings. This Essay addresses whether federal courts have the power to hear the Commonwealth’s claims that the defender organizations should be disqualified from individual postconviction proceedings because their participation in those proceedings violates a federal statute.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation