Public officials respond to intractable problems in a couple of ways. One is to tackle them head on, learning from experience and bringing about what progress is possible. Another is to create a commission that studies them for a couple of years, replicates much of what has already been done and issues a report that is soon forgotten.

Providing lawyers for poor people accused of crimes has been an intractable problem ever since the U.S. Supreme Court held 50 years ago in Gideon v . Wainwright that to ensure fair trials and equal justice the Constitution requires states to provide lawyers to those unable to afford one on their own. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has said that the representation of the poor is in a “state of crisis” and “unworthy” of our legal system.

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