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In a relatively bright spot for civil rights, the U.S. Supreme Court last term often ruled in favor of convicted prisoners claiming constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. In nine cases, eight of which involved death-row inmates, the Court confronted disturbing examples of malfeasance, made clear its sympathy for military veterans and its unease with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, wrestled with the appropriate role of professional standards in defining Sixth Amendment rights, and opened up an entirely new area of ineffective-assistance claims. While most of the Court’s rulings were narrow, taken together they suggest a Court open to claims by prisoners asserting violations of their constitutional right to counsel.

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