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Civil Rights Attorney Richard Sobol Passed Away

He argued Duncan v. Louisiana and Apodaca v. Oregon


The New York Times published the obituary for Richard Sobol, a prominent civil rights attorney. He passed away last month. His most prominent case was Duncan v. Louisiana (1968). This case held that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporate the right to a criminal jury trial. Here is the backstory:

In 1966, on a swampy strip of land south of New Orleans, a young black man named Gary Duncan was defusing a potential fight between white and black teenagers outside a newly integrated school when he touched an arm of one of the white boys, who recoiled. The police later arrested Mr. Duncan on a charge of battery. His request for a jury trial was denied, and he was sentenced to 60 days in prison and fined $150.

Mr. Duncan and his mother asked a young, white civil rights lawyer, Richard Sobol, to represent him, which he did. Mr. Sobol fought the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In a landmark 1968 decision, the court ruled for Mr. Duncan and established the right to a jury trial in state criminal cases.

The ruling was a major victory for the civil rights movement and for Mr. Sobol, who was 29 at the time and just beginning his legal career.

Sobol also argued Apodaca v. Oregon (1972):

Mr. Sobol often said that his greatest defeat was his failure to convince the Supreme Court in 1972 that juries should be required to reach unanimous decisions. The court revisited the issue recently and, in a triumph that he did not live to see, ruled on Monday that jury decisions involving serious crimes had to be unanimous.

I doubt he would have agreed with Justice Gorsuch that Apodaca was not really a precedent. It was very real for many people.