Professor of Law, Emeritus
With a gleam in his eye, Robert Blecker, a nationally known retributivist advocate of the death penalty, has managed to alienate both sides of the debate on the politically divisive and morally complex issue of capital punishment. But his position as designated outcast is nothing new, nor is his strongly held conviction that the most vicious and callous offenders deserve to die and that society is morally obliged to execute those “worst of the worst” criminals.
A radical at heart, like many who grew up in the 1960s, Professor Blecker railed against prevailing academic assumptions about the evils of capital punishment during his undergraduate years at Tufts, where he refused to major and nevertheless in 1969 earned a B.A. with honors in three fields, while vehemently protesting against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
At Harvard Law School, where he won the Oberman Prize for the best graduating thesis, Professor Blecker was one of only two students to publicly defend the death penalty. He went on to prosecute corrupt lawyers, cops, and judges and saw up close how the rich and powerful were given breaks denied to poor and powerless offenders. Later a Harvard University Fellow in Law and Humanities and also a playwright, Professor Blecker’s production “Vote NO!”, an anti-federalist case against adopting the Constitution, premiered in 1987 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and traveled to 16 states, convincing even staunchly patriotic audiences to vote against the Constitution.
Still rebellious, Professor Blecker espouses his carefully considered, yet almost universally unpalatable position in the academic community. Based on 13 years of interviewing convicted killers, and hundreds of hours inside maximum security prisons and on death rows, he makes a powerful case for the death penalty as retribution, but only for the “worst of the worst” offenders.
The sole keynote speaker supporting the death penalty at major conferences and at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, he was also the lone American advocate at an international conference in Geneva on the death penalty sponsored by Duke University Law School.
Professor Blecker encourages emotional debate in his teaching and has cotaught his death penalty course with leading abolitionists—most recently Kevin Doyle, Director of New York’s Capital Defender’s Office—in order to give students both viewpoints. He also teaches Criminal Law, Constitutional History, and Criminals and Our Urge to Punish Them.
Frequently appearing in The New York Times, on PBS, CourtTV, CNN, BBC World News, and other major media outlets, and with privileged access to death rows across the country, Professor Blecker made a documentary chronicling life on death rows and contrasting them with maximum security general population: Are they “living hell” as commonly portrayed? He was also the subject of a feature documentary, Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead, which chronicles his odd relationship with Daryl Holton, executed by Tennessee.
The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice Among the Worst of the Worst. Palgrave Macmillian (2013).
CHAPTERS IN BOOKS
Roots “Resolving the Death Penalty: Wisdom from the Ancients.” Chapter 6 in America’s Experiment with Capital Punishment: Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future of the Ultimate Penal Sanction,2nd ed. at 169–231 (J.R. Acker, R.M. Bohm & C.S. Lanier, eds., Carolina Academic Press, 2003).
“Policing the Police.” Chapter 13 in Police and Policing: Contemporary Issues, at 169–180, edited by D.J. Kenney. Praeger, 1989.
LAW REVIEW AND OTHER SCHOLARLY PUBLICATIONS
“A Poster Child for Us (Symposium: The Effects of Capital Punishment on the Administration of Justice),” 89 Judicature 297-301 (2006).
“If I Implore You and Order You to Set Me Free (New York Law School Faculty Presentation Day II),” 49 New York Law School Law Review 561-576 (2004-2005).
“The Death Penalty: Where Are We Now?” (Special Issue: Reflecting on the Legal Issues of Our Times. New York Law School Faculty Presentation Day), 46 New York Law School Law Review 665–674 (2002–2003).
“Haven or Hell? Inside Lorton Central Prison: Experiences of Punishment Justified.” 42 Stanford Law Review 1149–1249 (1990).
“Beyond 1984: Undercover in America–Serpico to Abscam.” 28 New York Law School Law Review823–1024 (1984).
NEWSPAPER ARTICLES, PRACTICE MATERIALS, AND OTHER PUBLICATIONS
“Who Deserves to Die? A Time to Reconsider,” 231 New York Law Journal 2 (July 22, 2004).
“To Live or Die? Is There a Moral Obligation to Execute the Worst of the Worst? (Point/Counterpoint: Yes),” 1 New York Law Journal Magazine 10–11 (September 2002).
Book Review. “When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition, by Austin Sarat,” 225 New York Law Journal 2 (May 11, 2001).
“Among Killers, Searching For the Worst of the Worst.” Washington Post (Outlook), at B01 (December 3, 2000).
“Getting the View From Lorton.” Washington Post (Outlook), at B04 (December 3, 2000).
“How Does Congress Define ‘Perjury’?” Wall Street Journal, at A22 (December 9, 1998). Reprinted in 17 In Brief 12 (Spring/Summer, 1999).
“The Right Way Out.” 220 New York Law Journal 2 (December 16, 1998).
“Truth in the Iran-Contra Affair: Making the Constitution Work.” 10 National Law Journal 22 (December 7, 1987).
“The Standards of Truth and Trust After the Iran-Contra Hearings.” 10 National Law Journal 20 (December 14, 1987).
“Vote No!” An Antifederalist Monologue [a play that premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on December 1, 1987, and has been performed in many places throughout the country, including Tufts University, Harvard University, the National Association of
Attorneys General State Dinner, the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and the Air Force Academy].
“Readers’ Reaction to Bolan-Cohn Article.” 187 New York Law Journal 2 (May 21, 1982) (with J. Glekel, S. Stein, S. Rifkin & J. Boutiller).
Professor Robert Blecker discusses his new book entitled “The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice among the Worst of the Worst.”