College of Law celebrates significant anniversaries on April 6

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Keynotes by former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer and New Orleans Judge Arthur Hunter

Former ABA President & Detroit mayor Dennis Archer - 100th Anniversary of Amos P. Scruggs

Noon keynote lecture celebrates first African-American graduate of UI College of Law

To commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the 1907 graduation of Amos P. Scruggs, the first African-American graduate from the University of Illinois College of Law, the keynote address will be delivered at Noon on Friday, April 6 in the Max L. Rowe Auditorium by former Detroit mayor and Michigan Supreme Court Justice Dennis W. Archer, Chairman of the firm Dickinson Wright LLP in Detroit.

Mr. Archer previously served as the Mayor of Detroit (1994-2001), President of the American Bar Association (2003-2004) and Michigan Associate Supreme Court Justice (1986-1990). Named as one of the "100 Most Influential Black Americans" by Ebony magazine, Mr. Archer's current practice includes commercial and business litigation, labor and employment relations, appellate litigation, and alternative dispute resolution. As the Mayor of Detroit, he served as President of the National League of Cities and was named one of the "25 Most Dynamic Mayors in America" by Newsweek. As a Supreme Court Justice was named the "Most Respected Judge in Michigan" by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has also been honored as one of the "100 Most Powerful Attorneys in the United States" by the National Law Journal and "Public Official of the Year" by Governing magazine.  He earned his B.S. in Education from Western Michigan in 1965 and his J.D. from Detroit College of Law in 1970 and has been an Associate Professor at Detroit College of Law and Adjunct Professor at Wayne State Law School. He is currently Chairman of the Board for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Amos P. Scruggs is listed as the 14th African-American student at the University of Illinois and he was the first African-American to obtain a law degree from the state's flagship law school. Mr. Scruggs was born in 1874 in Shipman, Illinois and moved to Litchfield when he was 12 years old. He was the first African-American student to graduate from Litchfield High School in 1896 at the age of 22. He graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1907 at the age of 33. He married Mary Fitzpatrick in 1906, was a traveling salesman from 1907-1914 and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1910. He was admitted to the Nebraska Bar in 1914 and was appointed Sealer of Weights and Measures for the City of Omaha in 1916. He argued 13 cases before the Illinois Supreme Court from 1930-1935, including two criminal appeals.

One of the appeals that Mr. Scruggs argued resulted in a reversal of the defendant's conviction. In People v. Jenkins (342 Ill. 238, 174 N.E. 30), Mr. Jenkins, a black man, had been convicted of assault with intent to commit rape. The victim was an eighteen-year-old white woman. Race was never mentioned in the decision but the defendant was described as being on his way home from a meeting of the American Negro Protective Association while the victim was described as the step-daughter of an Austro-Hungarian immigrant. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction, finding that the evidence of Mr. Jenkin's "passion" was not sufficient evidence of his intention to commit rape. The next time Mr. Scruggs appeared before the court, it was as a member of the State's Attorney's staff.

New Orleans Judge Arthur Hunter - 75th Anniversary of Powell v. Alabama

Conference ties "Scottsboro" case to current post-Katrina New Orleans legal situation

The University of Illinois College of Law's Legal Practice Group and Program in Criminal Law and Procedure are teaming up to host "Why Lawyers Matter:  Building and Rebuilding Justice Systems after Katrina" on Friday, April 6, 2007 from 1-4 p.m. in the Max. L. Rowe Auditorium. The conference will commemorate the landmark 1932 U.S. Supreme Court decision Powell v. Alabama. With this ruling, the Supreme Court set a precedent-under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, counsel must be guaranteed to everyone facing a possible death sentence, whether in State or federal court. Powell v. Alabama was the beginning of an "incorporation" into State constitutions of fair trial rights guaranteed by the 6th Amendment. These rights were made applicable to the States by the 14th Amendment.

The 75th anniversary Conference will feature New Orleans Judge Arthur Hunter as the keynote speaker. Judge Hunter, a former New Orleans police officer, was prominently featured in national media outlets last year, including the New York Times, after he enacted a controversial policy to let defendants without lawyers and legal representation out of jail. Judge Hunter has suspended prosecutions in most cases involving public defenders. His actions are in response to the lack of public defender staff and funding and a nightmarish backlog of cases following Hurricane Katrina.

The New Orleans public defenders office is financed primarily on local court fees, such as traffic ticket surcharges, which Judge Hunter argues is unconstitutional because the system forces poor people to fund the system.

Other speakers at the conference will be Virginia "Ginger" Schleuter, the Federal Public Defender from the Eastern District of Louisiana and civil rights attorney Tracie Washington, Director of the NAACP Gulf Coast Advocacy Project. Ms. Schleuter directs an organization of criminal defense attorneys who represent individuals charged with federal crimes in the Eastern District of Louisiana who have been found to qualify for these services by a magistrate judge and includes investigators, paralegals, research & writing specialists, interns, and legal secretaries.

Ms. Washington's practice has focused on protecting the civil rights of individuals affected by this national catastrophe. Since returning from Texas, where she and her son evacuated until December 2005, Tracie has been counsel in several cases involving the rights of New Orleans Katrina survivors, including Kirk vs. City of New Orleans and Ray Nagin, litigating the rights of all New Orleans home-owners to constitutionally guaranteed notice and opportunity to be heard prior to their houses being bulldozed; Powell vs. Quality Inn Maison St. Charles, litigating the rights of evacuees living in hotels funded by FEMA to adequate notice prior to eviction; Lott vs. Orleans Parish School Board, litigating the rights of returning New Orleans public school students to immediate re-enrollment and admission to publicly funded Orleans Parish Schools; McWaters vs. FEMA, intervention on behalf of Louisiana FEMA hotel residents, seeking a restraining order against FEMA from evicting Louisiana evacuees on February 13, 2006; ACORN et al. vs. Kathleen Blanco, Governor - State of Louisiana, litigating the voting rights of New Orleans evacuees and their right to equal access to the franchise as promised by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the U.S. Constitution; and Anderson vs. Jackson, suing on behalf of public housing residents fighting for their rights to return home. In addition, Washington has served as counsel to immigrant workers in the New Orleans area on advocating worker justice issues.

About Powell v. Alabama (1932)

Historical Background of Powell v. Alabama

By the 1930s, the reign of Jim Crow had reached its apex in the South. Segregation of the races remained the norm across the region-and, indeed, across the nation. Discrimination, exacerbated by the devastating effects of the Great Depression, was particularly harsh. A new Ku Klux Klan had arisen in the 1920s, marauding the nation with intimidation and terror. Social attitudes among white people in the South reflected a desire to keep the races "separate," to be sure, but far from "equal" according to the Plessy standard. Few African Americans voted, held public office, or even spoke publicly about abuses in the South.

Circumstances of Powell v. Alabama - The "Scottsboro" Case

Nine young African-American men hopped a ride aboard an empty freight train heading through Alabama. A group of young white men had also hopped aboard for transport through the State. A fight ensued between the groups, and all but one of the young white men were thrown from the train. Enraged, they sent a message ahead to the town of Scottsboro to report the incident. When the local sheriff and a posse of citizens stopped the train before it reached Scottsboro, two young white women testified that they had been sexually assaulted by the young African-American men on board the train.

All nine were taken into custody, and when word of the allegations spread angry crowds gathered around the jailhouse. Unable to restrain the demonstrators or guarantee the safety of the accused, the sheriff called for the Alabama National Guard.

Throughout the proceedings, none of the "Scottsboro" men were allowed to contact their relatives, who lived out of State. On the day of the trial, an out-of-town attorney appeared for the defendants but announced that he could not formally represent them. The trial judge called on all the local lawyers present to assume responsibility for defending the nine young men, but only one agreed. The two lawyers had no opportunity to investigate the case or consult with their "clients." All nine youths were found guilty by four separate juries, despite testimony from doctors who said they found no evidence of rape upon examining the women. Eight of the nine men received the death penalty. The convictions were appealed through the State courts of Alabama, and failing there, went to the Supreme Court.

Constitutional Issues

The question before the Court regarded the right to legal counsel guaranteed by the 6th Amendment, and how that right was applied to the States by the 14th Amendment. Must States provide counsel to citizens who cannot afford an attorney? Could a citizen be sentenced to death without benefit of counsel? Was the right to counsel so fundamental that the trial could not be fair without an attorney being provided? Was the right to counsel guaranteed in State trials by the 14th Amendment?


For Powell: The Scottsboro trials were a travesty of justice-the accused having been railroaded through a discriminatory system. The young black men's right to counsel was so fundamental to criminal proceedings that any trial conducted without a defense attorney was not a fair trial at all. Alabama's conduct of the trial was unfair-a violation of a basic rule of decency and justice under the Constitution. Justice demanded that the death sentences be overturned and that new trials be ordered.

For Alabama: The right to legal counsel as stated in the 6th Amendment applies only to federal courts. Each State conducts its own criminal justice system, separate from federal authority, under the reserved powers of the Constitution. Alabama has its own bill of rights that recognizes the right of the accused to obtain counsel, but does not require the State to pay for attorneys to defend accused persons. The Supreme Court should not interfere with the internal operation of the State courts and it had never done so in 140 years. Moreover, an attorney defended the accused, but they were all convicted.

Decision and Rationale

Justice Sutherland wrote the 7-2 majority opinion, overturning the convictions of the young black men and requiring that a new trial be held with the benefit of legal counsel appointed by the court. Sutherland wrote "No attempt was made to investigate.... Defendants were immediately hurried to trial...." The Court noted that "a defendant, charged with a serious crime, must not be stripped of his right to have sufficient time to advise with counsel and prepare his defense." To deny that, Sutherland wrote, "is not to proceed promptly in the calm spirit of regulated justice but to go forward with the haste of the mob."

The Court found that the right to counsel was one of the "'fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions'... We think the failure of the trial court to give [the young black men] reasonable time and opportunity to secure counsel was a clear denial of due process... '[T]here are certain immutable principles of justice which inhere in the very idea of free government which no member of the Union [no State] may disregard.'"

With this ruling, the Court set a precedent-under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, counsel must be guaranteed to everyone facing a possible death sentence, whether in State or federal court. The Scottsboro case was the beginning of an "incorporation" into State constitutions of fair trial rights guaranteed by the 6th Amendment. These rights were made applicable to the States by the 14th Amendment.