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 the United States’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.
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 has encouraged emotional debate in his teaching and has co-taught his death penalty course with leading abolitionists—including Kevin Doyle, Director of New York’s Capital Defender’s Office—in order to give students both viewpoints.
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.