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NARA Staff Favorites: Online Records

by on November 9, 2009


We’ve loved reading your suggestions and comments about sharing NARA’s holdings on Flickr, and it’s been interesting to see which images people are marking as favorites. All of this got us wondering about which records NARA insiders are particularly fond of, so we asked a few of our experienced colleagues for their picks. This second installment comes to us from

Cynthia Fox – Deputy Division Director Archives I Textual Archives Services (NWCT1)

“Petition for a Writ of Certiorari from Clarence Gideon to the Supreme Court of the United States, 06/05/1962″

writ-of-certiorari-pg-3.jpg

One of my favorite documents is the original petition for a writ of certiorari submitted to the US Supreme Court by Clarence Earl Gideon. The case, best known as Gideon v. Wainwright, [890 October Term 1961] reported as 372 U.S. 335 (1963), is a landmark case in United States Supreme Court history in which the Court unanimously ruled that state courts are required under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants who are unable to afford their own attorneys.

Clarence Earl Gideon was living in Florida in June of 1961, when he was charged with petty larceny. Because he could not afford an attorney, he was forced to represent himself in the State Court. He was convicted of burglary and sentenced to five years in the Florida penitentiary. He filed suit against the warden of the penitentiary claiming that his Constitutional rights had been violated. The Constitution stated that he had the right to counsel. It did not say, “if he could afford one.”

His case went to the United States Supreme Court. His original petition was written by hand on jailhouse stationary. He was not allowed to have a pen, so it is written in pencil. He had to borrow a pen to sign the petition. The Court decided in his favor and his case changed the interpretation of the Sixth Amendment. This is what democracy means to me and that’s why I believe in the statement about the National Archives that says, “Democracy starts here.”

Record Citation:
Petition for a Writ of Certiorari from Clarence Gideon to the Supreme Court of the United States, 06/05/1962
ARC Identifier 597554
Textual records of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1772-2007
Textual Archives Services Division (NWCT1R), National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.
Item from Series Appellate Jurisdiction Case Files, compiled 1792-2006


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