THE very strength of legal institutions--their adherence to basic principles and traditions--becomes a hindrance when a procedure long employed proves undesirable in modern practice. Unfortunately, the right of a defendant in criminal trials to retain counsel and, more especially, his right to have counsel appointed if he is indigent, received a definition at English common law which, though broadened over the years, fails in many respects to accord with our concept of fairness. Yet, this right to counsel might well be considered crucial--a right by which virtually all other rights are protected in practice. Whenever the judicial process unfolds, whether against the unlicensed orator in a public park, the protagonist of unpopular religious beliefs, or the citizen accused of assault or murder, the trial and its result give us in practice whatever meaning the rule of law possesses. It is obvious, too, that in order for a trial to achieve substantial justice there must be a fair and full presentation of the case for and against the accused. "His day in court" is an idle expression if the defendant lacks the assistance of able, courageous, and zealous counsel. The present study has resulted from an attempt to learn whether the right to counsel, which is vital in criminal cases, is enjoyed as consistently and widely in the United States as the needs of justice require.
Moreover, since 1937 the Supreme Court has relegated economic rights to a subordinate position in its hierarchy of constitutional rights, and has emphasized the First Amendment rights of speech, press, religion, and assembly and, in lesser degree, the procedural guarantees contained in the Bill of Rights. This "double standard" of the Court, as one observer has described it,1 promises to endure for the discernible future, and____________________