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As others see it: Make the courts a priority

We cannot imagine someone suggesting that our Minnesota courts try to function without judges, court administrators or prosecutors. Why, then, is the state short-changing public defender offices around the state, forcing them to handle too many cases or seek relief from handling some of their duties?

A little entity called the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1963 case (Gideon vs. Wainwright) that states must provide legal representation to defendants who cannot afford an attorney. That ruling has the effect of law. You remember the law? That's also the thing state legislatures create when they criminalize various activities. Making things a crime means we need police, prosecutors, court offices and judges. AND public defenders.

Now, it may be that some citizens don't believe that indigent defendants are entitled to counsel. It may be that some citizens disagree with Gideon. That's fine. People of good will are free to disagree and work to change other people's minds and the law. In the meantime, we remain a nation of laws. The alternative is people deciding for themselves which laws they will honor and which they will violate. We wouldn't tolerate this when it comes to crimes, and we shouldn't tolerate it when it comes to protecting people's constitutional rights.

The Minnesota Legislature needs to step up and find a way to properly fund the entire court system. If we are going to debate, then prioritize state spending, it seems to us that equal justice under law must be at the top of the list.