Stephen B. Bright

Harvey L. Karp Visiting Lecturer in Law
(spring term)

J.D., University of Kentucky College of Law, 1974

B.A., University of Kentucky, 1971

Courses Taught
  • Capital Punishment: Race, Poverty, and Disadvantage
Stephen B. Bright headshot

Stephen B. Bright is a Harvey L. Karp Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School. He has tried capital cases before juries in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, and argued cases before state and federal appellate courts, including four capital cases before the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed three cases because of racial discrimination in jury selection and the fourth because of the denial of funds for a crucial expert witness.

He served as director the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta from 1982 to 2005, and as its president and senior counsel from 2006 to 2016. Before joining the Southern Center, he was a legal services attorney in Appalachia; a public defender in Washington, D.C.; and director of a law school clinical program in Washington. He is also Visiting Associate Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. Subjects of his litigation, teaching and writing include capital punishment, legal representation for poor people accused of crimes, conditions and practices in prisons and jails, racial discrimination in the criminal courts, and judicial independence. He is the author with former student and Yale Law graduate James Kwak of The Fear of Too Much Justice: Race, Poverty, and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Courts (2023).

Bright received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award in 1998. The Daily Report, a legal newspaper in Georgia, named him “Agitator (and Newsmaker) of the Year” in 2003 for his contribution to bringing about creation of a public defender system in Georgia, and “Lawyer of the Year” in 2017 for his success in challenging racial discrimination before the United States Supreme Court in the case of Foster v. Chatman. His work is the subject of Robert L. Tsai, Demand the Impossible: One Lawyer’s Pursuit of Equal Justice for All (Norton, March 2024); William S. McFeely, Proximity to Death (1999), and Katya Lezin, Finding Life on Death Row (1999), and a film, Fighting for Life in the Death Belt (EM Productions, 2005).