The Extraordinary Career of Stephen Bright

Faculty Colloquium guest Robert Tsai on his forthcoming book, Demand the Impossible: One Lawyer’s Pursuit of Equal Justice, about the decline of the death penalty through the lens of attorney Stephen Bright’s career.

In this episode of “Discovery,” we interview our first return guest, Professor Robert Tsai of the Boston University School of Law. Tsai visited the UW Law Faculty Colloquium to discuss his forthcoming (and fourth) book, Demand the Impossible: One Lawyer’s Pursuit of Equal Justice, a historical thriller about the decline of the death penalty adjacent to the career of attorney Stephen Bright, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Bright argued four Supreme Court cases following the McCleskey v. Kemp ruling in 1987. The ruling declared that, even if the death penalty has a racially disproportionate impact in a state, it does not violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution unless a racially discriminatory purpose can be proved.

The disappointing ruling mobilized a group of civil rights advocates, led by Bright, to actually double down on their efforts to fight the death penalty and tough-on-crime policies through the courts.

Tsai, who attended Yale Law School, grew up in Port Townsend, Washington, and is now a Law Alumni Scholar at Boston University. Join us as he takes us through the journey of Stephen Bright’s fight for justice.
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