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Cornell Death Penalty Program Receives CLEA Award


On May 12, 2022, Cornell Law School’s Death Penalty Program received the Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project from the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA). The award honors the work of the Capital Punishment Clinic, the International Human Rights Clinic, the Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, and the Death Penalty Project, representing the efforts of Professors Sandra Babcock, John Blume, Sheri Johnson, and Keir Weyble, as well as generations of their students, alumni, community partners, and clients. The award was presented in a virtual ceremony at the Association of American Law School’s Conference on Clinical Legal Education. In conjunction with the award presentation, CLEA showed a moving video tribute to the work of the Death Penalty Program.

Babcock and Blume were in attendance to accept the award for the Cornell Death Penalty Program. Both thanked their colleagues in the program, as well as their nominators—Professors Beth Lyon from Cornell Law, David Bruck of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse, and Elisabeth Semel of Berkeley Law—along with friends and former colleagues Tom Geraghty and Tony Amsterdam.

“We are so lucky to have the job that we do,” said Babcock. “This work is not about winning big cases […] This work is about the struggle. And it’s about the joy of struggling in tandem with people that you love, with clients that you love, and teaching students that that is what the work is. It’s a never-ending struggle, and you have to be able to find joy in that.”

Blume thanked “twenty-five years of students” and also the program’s clients, “who literally put their lives in our hands.” He closed his remarks with an acknowledgement of the clients who have been lost to execution, saying, “I hope we told your story well, so that one day, when they write the history of the shameful practice of state homicide, you will be recognized as the victims of it.”

The faculty of Cornell Law School’s Death Penalty Program have collectively devoted more than 100 years to the defense of people facing the death penalty, leveraging law school and university resources to provide enduring support to individual clients and to the capital punishment abolition movement in the United States and around the world. They have worked not only to overturn convictions and death sentences of individual clients, but also to assist and train capital defense attorneys in dozens of countries, conduct groundbreaking empirical research and scholarship, and promote ever-higher standards of defense practice both in the United States and abroad. Countless alumni have gone on to work in criminal defense or in the capital punishment field as a result of their clinic experience, and many continue to collaborate with the faculty and current students.

According to Lyon, associate dean for experiential education and Clinical Program director, “Cornell is deeply honored to be included in this incredible group of advocates and programs. For many decades the Clinical Legal Education Association has been a tireless voice for justice and diversity as core values of the legal profession, and with this award CLEA shone a light not just on clinical advocacy for people on death row, but on the shameful global practice of capital punishment.”

Other CLEA award honorees included Fordham Law School’s Ian Weinstein, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Sheila Bedi, and the University of Maine School of Law’s Refugee and Human Rights Clinic, with an honorable mention for Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic and Initiative’s Ambassadors for Racial Justice Program.

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