Stephen B. Bright is president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School. He has been with the Center since 1982, serving as its director for 23 years. He has been teaching at Yale since 1993.
Subjects of his litigation, teaching and writing include capital punishment, legal representation for poor people accused of crimes, racial discrimination in the criminal courts, human rights violations in prisons and jails, and judicial independence.
He has represented people accused of crimes, including clients facing the death penalty, at trials, on appeals and in post-conviction proceedings in the state and federal courts. He has also litigated class actions in the state and federal courts challenging inadequate representation for people accused of crimes, human rights violations in prisons and jails and other issues. He has argued and won three cases before the United States Supreme Court, Foster v. Chatman (hear oral argument) (2016); Snyder v. Louisiana, 552 U.S. 472 (2008) (hear oral argument); Amadeo v. Zant, 486 U.S. 214 (1988) (hear oral argument). All three involved racial discrimination in the composition or selection of juries.
He has testified on many occasions before committees of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. He has also taught at the law schools at Chicago, Emory, Georgetown, Georgia, Harvard, Northeastern and Tennessee Universities. His work with the Center has been the subject of a documentary film, Fighting for Life in the Death Belt, (EM Productions 2005), and two books, Proximity to Death by William McFeely (Norton 1999) and Finding Life on Death Row by Kayta Lezin (Northeastern University Press 1999).
He 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 Legal Aid & Defender Association’s Kutak-Dodds Prize in 1992, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. The Fulton Daily Law Report, a legal newspaper in Georgia, named Bright “Newsmaker of the Year” in 2003 for his contribution to bringing about creation of a public defender system in Georgia.
Before coming to the Center, he was a trial lawyer at the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia and at a legal services program, the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund, which provides legal representation to the poor in the Appalachian region of Kentucky. He was also director of a clinical program for a consortium of five District of Columbia law schools.