Nationally recognized attorney and human rights advocate Stephen Bright will discuss his views on the death penalty and the current state of the U.S. prison system in a talk entitled, “Crime, Prison, and the Death Penalty: The Influence of Race and Poverty.” The talk, part of Washington University’s Assembly Series and the School of Law’s “Access to Justice” series, will be held at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2 in the Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom, Anheuser-Busch Hall.
Bright is best known as Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, based in Atlanta. This public interest legal project provides poor people who have been convicted of crimes or who are in prison with greater access to lawyers and more equal treatment in America’s courts. The Center also provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty and to prisoners facing cruel and unconstitutional prison conditions.
As head of the Center since 1982, Bright has worked tirelessly to eliminate the inequality and racial discrimination that he sees poor people and minorities encounter in the judicial system. He believes that “The criminal justice system is the part of our society that [has] been the least effected by the civil rights movement.”
Bright has also become one of the nation’s most outspoken opponents of the death penalty, representing people facing the death penalty at trials and on appeals since 1979. In 1988, he argued the case of Amadeo v. Zant before the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the death sentence was set aside because of racial discrimination. He has testified before committees of Congress and at the state level in a number of southern states.
In addition, he has been involved in several programs to increase the quality and fairness of representation of poor people in the judicial courts. Bright served as a legal services attorney with the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund, representing poor people in the coal fields of eastern Kentucky in jail conditions, welfare rights and other civil litigation. In 1981, he also served as the executive director of the District of Columbia Law Students in Court Program, which gives law students the opportunity to provide legal assistance to the impoverished in civil and criminal cases.
Bright currently teaches courses on the death penalty and criminal law at Yale and Harvard law schools. He earned his bachelor’s degree and his law degree at the University of Kentucky.
Bright has written extensively on the topics of criminal justice, corrections and judicial independence. His articles have been published in prominent law journals around the country, such as the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal.
Throughout his career, he has received numerous awards and honors, including the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award in 1998, the Roger-Baldwin Medal of Liberty presented by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1991, and the Kutak-Dodds Prize by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association in 1992.
Assembly Series lectures are free and open to the public. For more information, please call 935-4620 or go online to assemblyseries.wustl.edu.