Stephen Bright

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Stephen B. Bright (born 1948) is president and senior counsel for the Southern Center for Human Rights and teaches at Yale Law School. He served as director of the Southern Center for Human Rights from 1982 through 2005, where he developed a national reputation[1] as an opponent of the death penalty and advocate of the right to counsel for poor people accused of crimes. He has been president and senior counsel at the Center since 2006. He has taught at Yale Law School since 1993.

Early life and education[edit]

Bright grew up on a family farm in Boyle County, Kentucky, the son of a cattle and tobacco farmer. As a student at Boyle County High School, he was a journalist, writing stories for The Advocate-Messenger. He began his undergraduate studies at the University of Kentucky (UK) in Lexington in fall 1965. He became involved with student government, switched his major from journalism to political science, and was elected student body president in 1970.[2] Entering that office in a turbulent time of student demonstrations against the Vietnam war, the outspoken and controversial Bright earned a reputation as UK's "first liberal activist student president."[3] He received his B.A. and Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Kentucky.

Legal career[edit]

Before coming to the Center, Bright was a legal services attorney with the Appalachian Research & Defense Fund from 1975 to 1976, a public defender with the District of Columbia Public Defender Service from 1976 to 1979, and director of a law school clinical program in Washington, DC, from 1979 to 1982.

He has represented people facing the death penalty at trials and on appeals and prisoners in challenges to inhumane conditions and practices; written essays and articles on the right to counsel, racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, judicial independence, and other topics that have appeared in scholarly publications, books, magazines and newspapers; and testified before committees of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.[citation needed] He has also taught at the law schools at Harvard University, University of Chicago, Emory University, Georgetown University, University of Georgia, University of Tennessee, Northeastern University, American University, and other universities.

The Fulton County Daily Report named Bright Newsmaker of the Year[4] in 2003 for his contribution to bringing about creation of a public defender system in Georgia through passage of the Georgia Indigent Defense Act.[5][6] His work and the work of the Center have been the subject of a documentary film, Fighting for Life in the Death Belt[7] and two books, Proximity to Death by William McFeely (Norton, 1999) and Finding Life on Death Row by Katya Lezin (Northeastern University Press, 1999).


Bright received the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Award in 1998; the American Civil Liberties Union's Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty in 1991; the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008; the National Legal Aid & Defender Association's Kutak-Dodds Prize in 1992, honorary degrees from Georgetown, Emory, Northeastern, Louisville universities, the University of Central England, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and other awards. In 2000, Bright was inducted into the University of Kentucky College of Law Hall of Fame.


  1. ^ American Bar Association, Thurgood Marshall Award, History of Award and Past Recipients [1]
  2. ^ Bill Peterson, "Straight Radical," The Courier-Journal and Times Magazine, November 15, 1970, pp. 10-15, 49.
  3. ^ Joe Ward, "Steve's still stormy," The Courier-Journal, April 11, 1971, pp. B1, B11.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Amy Bach (2009). Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court. New York: Metropolitan Books. ISBN 978-0-8050-7447-5. 
  6. ^ "Georgia Indigent Defense Act HB 770". Retrieved 5 August 2011. 
  7. ^

Further reading[edit]