Jonathan Rapping, a lawyer and champion of legal defense by training, is a new MacArthur Fellows. In 2007 Rapping and his wife, Iham Askia, founded the Southern Public Defender Training Center to equip public defenders with the skills necessary to navigate a legal system that often fails poor, minority defendants. NPR reports that the center is now named “Gideon’s Promise” after the famous 1963 Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright.
Rapping says he is resisting a culture that is “judge-centered instead of client-centered” where lawyers see their role as pleasing the judge instead of fighting for their client. He is trying “to build a network of public defenders who not only had the skills to represent people well immediately, but who also had a supportive community. So when they go into these dysfunctional systems that pressured them to process people, they have a set of strategies to overcome those pressures.”