Lesson Plan: Landmark Supreme Court Case: Gideon V Wainwright (1963)

Gideon v. Wainwright: The Parties Involved

Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar and former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement discuss the people who were involved with this case.


Gideon v. Wainwright is responsible for changing the criminal justice system by granting criminal defendants the right to an attorney, even if they can't afford one on their own. The Court ruled that under the Sixth Amendment, state and federal courts were to respect the rights of the accused and allow them the opportunity to defend themselves.


  • STEP 1:

    As a class, have students view the following video and engage in class discussion to establish an understanding of the parties involved in this case.

    Students should take notes using the following handout.

    HANDOUT: Gideon V. Wainwright (Google Doc)

  • VIDEO CLIP 1: The Parties Involved (4:57)

    Vocabulary: Destitute, Writ of Habeas Corpus

  • STEP 2:

    Students can either work independently or in groups to view the following video clips and respond to the accompanying questions to learn about the origin of this case.

  • VIDEO CLIP 2: Clarence Earl Gideon (1:21)

    Vocabulary: Preliminary Trial

    1. Explain the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Clarence Gideon.
  • VIDEO CLIP 3: State Laws to Appoint Counsel (4:20)

    Vocabulary: Indigent, Amicus Briefs

    1. Explain the Florida law that determined the appointment of counsel during Gideon's time.

    2. Describe the challenge of the role of a judge at the time.

    3. How were states across the country dealing with the issue of appointing counsel during this time?
  • VIDEO CLIP 4: The Appeal (4:31)

    Vocabulary: Betts v. Brady, Appeal

    1. Why was Clarence Gideon given a jail sentence?

    2. Describe Gideon's experience in prison.

    3. Explain the process Supreme Court Justices engage in when selecting cases to hear.
  • STEP 3:

    View this collection of videos to learn about the makeup of the Supreme Court at this time, the arguments presented for each side, the Court's decision, Gideon's retrial and the overall impact of this case.

  • VIDEO CLIP 5: The Court (5:44)

    Vocabulary: Felony, Federalism, Judicial Restraint

    1. Describe the makeup of the Supreme Court during this time.

    2. Why did Abe Fortas agree to represent Clarence Gideon?

    3. According to Akhil Amar, why did the Supreme Court appoint Abe Fortas to the Gideon case?

    4. Describe Bruce Jacob's experience while representing Florida in this case.
  • VIDEO CLIP 6: The Arguments (5:08)

    Vocabulary: Jurisprudence, Monolith, Precedent

    1. According to Paul Clement, what did Abe Fortas have to accomplish in his argument before the Supreme Court?

    2. According to Akhil Amar, what was the argument for Florida in this case?

    3. Explain the role of amicus briefs in this case.
  • VIDEO CLIP 7: The Decision (8:14)

    Vocabulary: Concurrence, Watershed

    1. Explain the decision of the Supreme Court in this case.

    2. Describe the reaction to the decision.

    3. Explain the impact this decision had in the state of Florida.
  • VIDEO CLIP 8: Retrial (4:03)

    Vocabulary: Double Jeopardy, Acquittal

    1. Describe Clarence Gideon's response to the decision.

    2. Explain the outcome of Gideon's second trial.
  • VIDEO CLIP 9: Impact (1:03)

    Vocabulary: Impetus

    1. Explain the national impact of this case on the judicial system as well as individuals.
  • Culmination

    As a class, review and discuss the significance of this case, the precedent it set and its legacy.

  • Extension Activity:

    View the following video clip and ask students to debate the extent to which the decision in this case should apply to other areas of the law.

    VIDEO CLIP 10: Scope of the Decision (1:00)

    Constitutional scholar Akhil Amar talks about the scope of legal coverage in the decision in this case and whether or not it should be extended to other areas of the law.

Additional Resources

  • C-SPAN

    Landmark Cases explores the human stories and constitutional dramas behind some of the most significant and frequently cited decisions in the Supreme Court

  • SCOTUS Comparison Question: Gideon v Wainwright SCQ - Google Docs

    Respond to the writing prompt, presented in the style of the SCOTUS Comparison Question component of the redesigned AP Government and Politics exam.


  • Acquittal
  • Amicus Briefs
  • Appeal
  • Betts V. Brady
  • Concurrence
  • Destitute
  • Double Jeopardy
  • Federalism
  • Felony
  • Indigent
  • Judicial Restraint
  • Jurisprudence
  • Precedent
  • Preliminary Trial
  • Watershed
  • Writ Of Habeas Corpus


Civil Rights & Civil LibertiesCriminal Law & JusticeSupreme Court CasesU.S. History


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