Celebrated Human Rights Defense Lawyer Bryan Stevenson Wows Pitt Law With Lecture

Renowned human rights defense lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, spoke at Pitt Law Jan. 25 to a packed Teplitz Memorial Moot Courtroom, moving those in attendance to a standing ovation.

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and one of the most acclaimed and respected lawyers in the nation. His memoir, Just Mercy, is the story of a young lawyer fighting extreme punishments and careless justice.

Stevenson spoke at Pitt Law before later speaking at a sold out Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures series talk at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. 

“I think it many ways, popular culture contributed to the problems of mass incarnation — evil offenders doing evil things and the system failing to hold them accountable [which] resulted in these incredibly harsh punishments,” Stevenson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “For a really long time we sensationalized bad crimes, and it’s created a bad criminal justice system.”

Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu has called Stevenson “America’s young Nelson Mandela.” His work on individual cases has generated national attention and his efforts have reversed death penalties for dozens of condemned prisoners. Stevenson’s twenty-minute TED Talk on the subject of injustice has been viewed over 2.35 million times on the TED website and another 299k times on YouTube; The New Yorker named it one of five essential TED Talks.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1985, Stevenson moved to the South, a region on the verge of a crisis: the states were speeding up executions, but many of the condemned lacked anyone to represent them. On a shoestring budget he started the Equal Justice Initiative, a law practice dedicated to defending some of America’s most rejected and marginalized people. The cases he took on would change Stevenson’s life and transform his understanding of justice and mercy forever.

Stevenson is the recipient of numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant and the NAACP Image Award for Best Non-Fiction, and was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People for 2015. Stevenson is a tenured law professor at New York University School of Law.