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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What role does Judge Taylor's decision for Atticus to defend Tom Robinson play in the novel?

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Under normal circumstances, Tom's case would have gone to Maxwell Green, Maycomb County's newest and least experienced lawyer. Judge Taylor, however, personally asked Atticus to represent Tom because he knew Atticus possessed the experience and the integrity to provide Tom with the strongest possible legal defense at his trial. In making this decision, Judge Taylor showed that he, also, was a man of integrity.

Atticus did not have to take Tom's case, legally, but his conscience demanded that he accept the responsibility, despite its dangers and heartaches. He explained this to Scout:

This case, Tom Robinson's case, is something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience--Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man.

Because of Judge Taylor and Atticus, Tom did receive an excellent legal defense. By the time Atticus gave his closing statement to the jury, everyone in the courtroom knew Tom was innocent. Ultimately, Tom was convicted--not by the evidence--but by the color of his skin. Atticus' defense was so strong, though, that the jury stayed out for several hours, which was very significant, as Atticus explained to Jem:

That [the length of time the jury took to reach a verdict] was the one thing that made me think, well, this may be the shadow of a beginning. That jury took a few hours. An inevitable verdict, maybe, but usually it takes 'em just a few minutes.

Miss Maudie told Jem and Scout that their father could not have won Tom's case because no one could have won it, but "he's the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that."

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