Read each section, then answer the accompanying questions.
When the Constitution was first written, some people thought that it
lacked provisions to protect the public from a potentially abusive
government. These people insisted that a Bill of Rights be added to it.
James Madison was commissioned to write this document. His original
draft contained twelve amendments, one of which included a stipulation
that the Bill of Rights would apply to the states. He thought that
amendment was one of the most important amendments. Others disagreed
with him, arguing that because many state constitutions had their own
Bills of Rights, it would not be necessary to protect citizens from
abuse at the hands of the state governments. The amendment was rejected
and it was clear to most people that the Bill of Rights did not apply to
Then, in 1868, when the 14th Amendment was ratified, some
people argued that it meant that the Bill of Rights applied to the
states, while others insisted that it did not. This became the subject
of intense debate for years to come. The scope of the Sixth Amendment,
which appears below, was part of that debate.
In all criminal prosecutions, the
accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an
impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have
been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by
law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to
be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process
for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of
Counsel for his defence.
Questions to Consider
- This amendment and the other amendments in the Bill of Rights were
originally written to protect citizens from which level of government?
- Which of these Sixth Amendment rights did Gideon claim had been violated by the State of Florida?
- What does "the Assistance of Counsel" mean? In what sense was
Gideon permitted to have the "Assistance of Counsel"? In what sense was
he denied it?
- How could the State of Florida justify denying Gideon's request to appoint a lawyer for him?
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to
the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the
State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law, which
shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United
States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or
property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its
jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Questions to Consider
- Which clauses in the 14th Amendment could be interpreted to
mean that the Sixth Amendment "Assistance of Counsel" applies to the
- What information could the State of Florida use to argue that
the Sixth Amendment "Assistance of Counsel" does not apply to the
You are a Supreme Court justice. You have considered Gideon's appeal
and now must make a decision. Is the State of Florida required to give
Gideon a lawyer free of charge? In answering this question, consider the
following: Does the Sixth Amendment apply to the states? If so, what
does the clause "Assistance of Counsel" mean? Does it mean that states
must not forbid a defendant from having a lawyer or that they provide a
defendant with a lawyer free of charge? Explain your reasoning.