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Equal Justice Initiative founder to get honorary degree, speak May 12 at Wayne Law Commencement

April 18, 2014

DETROIT - Bryan A. Stevenson, one of America's leading social justice and human rights attorneys, will receive an honorary degree and serve as keynote speaker Monday, May 12, at Wayne State University Law School's Commencement.

The university will award Stevenson an honorary doctor of laws degree for his distinguished career and outstanding contributions to the field of public-interest law. The ceremony, open to graduates and their guests, will be in The Masonic Temple of Detroit's Jack White Theater. Tickets are required.

Stevenson is founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Montgomery, Ala., and is a professor at New York University School of Law. He has gained national acclaim for his social justice and human rights work challenging bias against the poor and people of color in the criminal justice system.

Under his leadership, the Equal Justice Initiative has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. The Equal Justice Initiative recently won an historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.

Stevenson is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where he was awarded the Harvard Fellowship in Public Interest Law, and Harvard School of Government, where he was awarded the Kennedy Fellowship in Criminal Justice.

Since 1985, when he joined the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta as a staff attorney, he has been representing capital defendants and death row prisoners in the Deep South. From 1989 to 1995, he represented capital defendants as executive director of the Alabama Capital Representation Resource Center. Since 1989, he has been executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He joined the clinical faculty at New York University School of Law in 1998.

He has been awarded 13 honorary degrees, has published several widely disseminated manuals on capital litigation and has written extensively on criminal justice, capital punishment and civil rights issues.

His work has won him numerous awards, including the American Bar Association's John Minor Public Service and Professionalism Award and Wisdom Award for Public Service, American Civil Liberties Union National Medal of Liberty, American College of Trial Lawyers Award for Courageous Advocacy, American Psychiatric Association Human Rights Award, Ford Foundation Visionaries Award, Gleitsman Foundation's National Citizen Activist Award, Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize, MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Award, NAACP William Robert Ming Advocacy Award, National Association of Public Interest Lawyers Public Interest Lawyer of the Year Award, National Lawyers Guild's Lawyer for the People Award, National Legal Aid & Defender Association Lifetime Achievement Award, Olaf Palme Prize for international human rights, Roosevelt Institute Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom from Fear Award and Thurgood Marshall Medal of Justice. In 2013, Stevenson was inducted into the Legal Guardian Room, National Voting Civil Rights Museum and Institute.