Why did Judge Taylor appoint Atticus to Tom's case?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Judge Taylor, the judge presiding over the trial of Tom Robinson in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, appears to be sleepy-eyed, eccentric (as evidenced by his strange habit of eating cigars while presiding), and someone who “[takes] his job casually." However, Scout quickly learns that Taylor’s character is rather more complex. The most important example of Taylor’s character and nature as a judge is his decision to put Scout’s father Atticus in charge of Tom Robinson’s defense. Scout learns of her father’s assignment to the case not from Atticus himself but rather, from a group of men talking to one another at the courthouse in chapter 16. She inadvertently learns that Taylor tapped Atticus to defend Robinson because Atticus, according to multiple characters, is a man of integrity and the best attorney in Maycomb.

In chapter 22, Miss Maudie reinforces this evaluation of Judge Taylor in a conversation with Scout and her brother Jem. An outraged Jem demands asks Miss Maudie who, aside from his father, attempted to help Tom Robinson, Miss Maudie answers that Judge Taylor, in choosing Atticus to defend Tom, was also trying to help the boy. It can easily be argued that the judge was also trying to make a broader statement about the mistreatment of black people in the South. By giving Robinson an attorney who would ensure his right to as fair a trial as much as possible, Taylor can be seen to have resisted the norm of legal discrimination towards and dehumanization of black people in the Jim Crow South.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

While Atticus does not reveal why Judge Taylor appointed him to defend Tom Robinson, Scout, who is always watching and listening to what is going on around her, learns from more than one source that the judge appointed Atticus because he thought Atticus would do his best to insure Robinson a fair trial.

Scout discovers, for instance, from listening to one of the Idlers Club members, that Judge Taylor appointed Atticus because of Atticus's integrity and competency. Later, Miss Maudie, whose word can always be trusted, says the same: the judge wanted a fair trial (as much as one could be had in the racist South) and appointed Atticus because he was a man of integrity who could be trusted to do the right thing.

We learn that despite the deep racism that runs through the white community in Maycomb, there is an undercurrent of pushback from more enlightened people who are appalled at the injustices of racism. These include the newspaper editor, Miss Maudie, and Judge Taylor—they know that the time for change has not yet come but are trying hard to plant seeds that will in the future change hearts and minds.

We also should keep in mind that much of the book's purpose is to show Scout's growing awareness of what an exemplary human being Atticus is. It is important for that reason that we know that Atticus was not chosen to defend Tom randomly, but because he was the best man for the job.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter sixteen, Scout enters the courthouse and is astonished to overhear one of the members of the Idlers’ Club comment that Judge Taylor appointed Atticus to defend Tom Robinson. Judge Taylor specifically chose Atticus to defend Tom Robinson instead of the inexperienced Maxwell Green because he believes in justice and knew that Atticus would valiantly defend Tom. Following the trial, Miss Maudie explains to the children that numerous people in Maycomb's community supported Atticus and Tom Robinson. She makes sure to bring up the fact that Judge Taylor specifically chose Atticus because he believed Tom was innocent and knew Atticus would defend him to the best of his ability. Judge Taylor's decision to appoint Atticus reveals that he values justice and equality. He is aware that Atticus is a morally-upright man and trusts that he would not succumb to the peer pressure from his racist neighbors, which is why he chose him to defend Tom Robinson. Judge Taylor also knows that Atticus is the best lawyer in Maycomb and he will make a compelling case that will reveal the ugly truth.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Judge Taylor appoints Atticus Finch to Tom Robinson's case because Taylor believes that Atticus is the only attorney who could give Tom's story a chance to be heard in court in a way that would prevent people from automatically dismissing it.

Scout realizes this in Chapter Twenty-Two after Tom has been found guilty of the rape of Mayella Ewell, despite being innocent. When the children go to Miss Maudie to talk about what has transpired in the courthouse, Miss Maudie points out that Taylor had selected Atticus instead of Maxwell Green, who has less experience and talent. This leads Scout to realize that Atticus was chosen because Taylor wanted Tom to have as fair of a trial as he could in the deeply racist town of Maycomb.

Later, in Chapter Twenty-Five, Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra discuss the toll that the case has had on Atticus's health, and Miss Maudie comments quite profoundly about Atticus's appointment:

Whether Maycomb knows it or not, we're paying the highest tribute we can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It's that simple.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

During a conversation with Miss Maudie, Scout and Jem found out that Judge Taylor had appointed Atticus specifically to defend Tom Robinson. A young lawyer named Maxwell Green was the one who was usually appointed by the court for defense. He was new to the profession, so he served as the court-appointed defense attorney in Maycomb County. Atticus was a skilled defense attorney with many years of experience.

Historically, African Americans did not always have the most fair trials in Maycomb County. This was especially true when the jury was biased because an African American was accused of a crime against a white person. Miss Maudie saw the injustice in this, and she viewed Judge Taylor's decision as a step in the direction of progress. Miss Maudie hoped that Atticus would give Tom more of a chance:

Atticus Finch won't win, he can't win, but he's the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that.  And I thought to myself, well, we're making a step—it's just a babystep, but it's a step (Chapter 22).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial