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Bryan Stevenson, Celebrated Human Rights Defense Lawyer, Tapped as Commencement Speaker for Santa Clara University School of Law

Monday, May. 4, 2009

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – May 4, 2009. Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Alabama, will address graduating students at the School of Law’s 2009 commencement ceremony on May 23. The commencement is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. in the University’s Mission Gardens.

Stevenson has won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color in the criminal justice system, and for working to overturn unjust death penalties, especially in the South where the legacy of racism persists.

Under his leadership, EJI has assisted in securing relief for at least 75 condemned prisoners in Alabama, advocated for poor people, and developed community-based reform litigation aimed at improving the administration of criminal justice. Stevenson has argued twice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last year, EJI collected stories of 73 children, as young as 13, who have been tried as adults and sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole. The EJI is working to correct these harsh sentences.

“We are extremely pleased that Bryan Stevenson has agreed to speak to our graduating students and their families and friends this year,” said Donald J. Polden, dean of Santa Clara University’s School of Law. “His tireless work to improve the criminal justice system for the poor, free wrongfully or excessively charged defendants, and empower communities to advocate for change reflects the values of Santa Clara Law. He is a wonderful role model for our students, and his career reflects Santa Clara Law’s commitment to social justice and meaningful law reform”

After graduating magna cum laude from Eastern University in Pennsylvania, Stevenson went to Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government, graduating from both in 1985. It was while still a student, interning at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, that he realized he wanted to use his innate legal talents to help rectify unfair sentences, especially death penalties, for inmates who had experienced shoddy defense representation or biased trials.

After graduation, Stevenson joined the Southern Center as an attorney in 1985. From 1989 to 1995, he represented capital defendants as the executive director of the Alabama Capital Representation Resource Center. After being wooed by NYU’s law dean, he joined the clinical faculty at New York University School of Law in 1998, and his publications on capital punishment and criminal justice are internationally recognized.

Born in 1959, Stevenson grew up in Milton, Delaware, the son of a processing-plant worker and a clerk at Dover Air Force Base. Stevenson, an accomplished piano player in his rare spare time, has received more than a half dozen honorary degrees, and has won virtually every major public service law award.

In 1995, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded him a $300,000 “genius grant” (which he passed along to his nonprofit). In 2008 he was the recipient of Santa Clara Law’s Katharine and George Alexander Law Prize.

About Santa Clara University School of Law
Santa Clara Law, founded in 1911 on the site of California’s oldest operating higher-education institution, is dedicated to educating lawyers who lead with a commitment to excellence, ethics, and social justice. One of the nation’s most diverse law schools, Santa Clara Law offers its 975 students an academically rigorous program, including graduate degrees in international law and intellectual property law; a combined J.D./MBA degree; and certificates in intellectual property law, international law, and public interest and social justice law. Santa Clara Law is located in the world-class business center of Silicon Valley and is distinguished nationally for its highly ranked program in intellectual property. For more information, see

About Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its 8,758 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus master’s and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

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