The public is again telling Kardashian West to stay in her lane. And again, they shouldn't. If she becomes a defense lawyer it could be very beneficial for the criminal legal system.
Criminal defense is where Kardashian fame started. While it was hardly for a poor defendant, her father's service in helping O.J. Simpson beat murder charges is why we know the family name.
Kardashian West has proven herself to be both genuinely interested in and effective at sentencing reform and rehabilitative processes. And her celebrity wattage can shine light on the fact that indigent defense remains in a state of crisis with very little relief in sight.
Read more commentary:
Policing the USA: A look at race, justice, media
Defendants aren't getting fair representation
At least 80% of felony defendants on the state level can't afford an attorney. Lack of funding for indigent defense services — various programs nationwide that help the poor get representation — is often the barrier between defendants and a fair trial. Funding is so inadequate that defendants became class-action lawsuit plaintiffs in nine states. The suits claimed that states failed to appropriate enough money for their defense, and that the failure was a violation of the defendants' Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Plaintiffs won in three states — Michigan, Montana and New York.
Less than a third of local public defender offices have enough attorneys to meet caseload standards. That drops to less than a quarter on the state level.
The dangers posed to defendants by excessive caseloads was much more of a national conversation under President Barack Obama. Eric Holder, attorney general under Obama from 2009 to 2015, dedicated himself to improving defender systems. He spoke publicly about shoring them up. Under his leadership, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance instituted grant programs to help state and local indigent defense offices with both technical and hiring support.
While the Trump administration requested an additional $77.2 million for the federal public defenders program for FY 2020, the grant program started under Obama was for state and local public defenders — offices that take on substantially more defendants and that receive little to no funding.
More than that, in his proposed 2020 budget, Trump wants to eliminate Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program whereby people who work for relatively low salaries in public service can have their student debt forgiven. According to a survey conducted by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, only 19% of respondents said they would "very likely" or "definitely" have taken their jobs without the loan forgiveness program. And 81% reported that they would either "likely" or "definitely" leave their job if they didn’t have loan assistance.
Without more funding, state and local public defense will get worse.
Discussions about right to counsel invariably provoke rejoinders of "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."
With more than 2,400 exonerations since 1989, the government has overpowered too many who haven't done the crime and yet do the time. The right to an attorney is an equalizer, a protection against the greater power of the government.
Kim's influence, advocacy
Kardashian West's influence on politicians has also proven pretty powerful. Her advocacy has been integral in helping to free two women: Alice Marie Johnson and Cyntoia Brown. Kardashian West also lobbied for the passage of the FIRST STEP Act.
Since the act's passage, sentences have been reduced for 721 inmates. And 573 deserving citizens, who otherwise would have remained incarcerated, have been released. If she joins the defense bar, the inequities of the system will come to the fore (publicly at least) in a way they haven't before.
Because they respect the Constitution and want to ward off wrongful convictions, using more tax dollars for public defense would be an easy sell for most people (especially when they think of themselves as the possible defendant). The sticking point is the legislators and, more specifically, persuading them to make the appropriations to solve these problems. Policymakers may resist testimony from people who can't afford a lawyer as they beg for more funding, but they're more likely to succumb to the spotlight of someone like Kardashian West, who will at last be able to dodge accusations that she's not an expert when she tackles serious social justice problems. She'll have a law license and hours logged in a courtroom.
There are no substantive objections to this change in Kardashian West's career trajectory. Complaints that her apprenticeship won’t provide her with the knowledge she needs to represent people fall flat when you consider that she will take the same bar examination as everyone else who represents clients.
Kardashian West will be privileged and influential whether she becomes a lawyer or not. We want people with those powers to use them for the greater good, which is what she's doing. Criticizing her doesn't make you woke, it makes you shallow.
When it comes to California's attorney corps, Kardashian West should be in it. Her membership on the defense bar would be a game changer for criminal defendants.
Chandra Bozelko is the vice president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and writes the award-winning blog Prison Diaries. You can follow her on Twitter: @ChandraBozelko.
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Yes, Kim Kardashian West wants to be a lawyer. And that's only a good thing.