The Defender General
72 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2020 Last revised: 19 Feb 2021
Date Written: May 1, 2020
The United States needs a Defender General—a public official charged with representing the collective interests of criminal defendants before the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court is effectively our nation’s chief regulator of criminal justice. But in the battle to influence the Court’s rulemaking, government interests have substantial structural advantages. As compared to counsel for defendants, government lawyers—and particularly those from the U.S. Solicitor General’s office—tend to be more experienced advocates who have more credibility with the Court. Most importantly, government lawyers can act strategically to play for bigger long-term victories, while defense lawyers must zealously advocate for the interests of their clients—even when they conflict with the interests of criminal defendants as a whole. The prosecution’s advantages likely distort the law on the margins.
If designed carefully, staffed with the right personnel, and given time to develop institutional credibility, a new Office of the Defender General could level the playing field, making the Court a more effective regulator of criminal justice. In some cases—where the interests of a particular defendant and those of defendants as a class align—the Defender General would appear as counsel for a defendant. In cases where the defendant’s interests diverge from the collective interests of defendants, the Defender General might urge the Court not to grant certiorari, or it might even argue against the defendant’s position on the merits. In all cases, the Defender General would take the broad view, strategically seeking to move the doctrine in defendant-friendly directions and counteracting the government’s structural advantages.
Keywords: Supreme Court, criminal law, criminal procedure, criminal justice, public defense, appellate litigation, legal ethics
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