As a Tufts University undergraduate who knew that Hitler deserved to die, Robert Blecker fled the Philosophy Department chaired by America’s leading death penalty opponent. Scorned by his fellow anti-Vietnam war protesters for supporting capital punishment, he insisted we were killing the wrong people. Tufts faculty produced and directed his three one-act plays and created the Balch Travelling and Playwriting fellowship for him. After his graduation — the first without a conventional major but with honors in three fields (magna cum laude in playwriting, cum laude economics, cum laude political science) — he taught American Culture and Creative Writing at the University of Vincennes. Harvard Law School (JD cum laude) awarded his graduating thesis,To Root in a Flowing Stream: A Philosophy of Game and Sport its newly created Oberman Prize as best of the 1974 class. In 1976-1977, Blecker returned as a Harvard University Fellow in Law and Humanities.
After a brief stint as a New York Special Assistant Attorney General attacking corrupt NYC cops, lawyers, and judges, Blecker became a New York Law School professor where he teaches Constitutional History, Criminal Law, and co-teaches death penalty jurisprudence with leading opponents. He also teaches history and philosophy to select Stuyvesant High School students.
Blecker’s American history play, “Vote NO!”, premiered in 1987 at the Kennedy Center, traveled to 16 states and was featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Every audience but one — including the ACLU, the cadets at West Point, and Annapolis – immediately after performance voted to reject the U.S. Constitution.
For 12 years, (1986-1999) armed with a tape recorder, candy and cigarettes, Blecker wandered freely inside Lorton, America’s only all-Black prison system, interviewing convicted killers, no officers present. He has since spent hundreds of hours documenting daily life on death rows and maximum security prisons in seven states. (He plans to write a stage play, “Death Watch.”) Testing legal philosophy against the street criminals’ reality and wisdom, Blecker has long been a leading public voice, appearing in national and international media and documentaries, urging a morally informed death penalty for those who deserve it, along with a life inside prison that corresponds to the seriousness of the crime. Let the punishment fit the crime. The feature film and shorter TV documentary Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead (available on Amazon and I-Tunes) portrays his unusual relationship on Tennessee’s death row with condemned killer Daryl Holton. Blecker continues to work on his own documentary, The Death of Punishment.
Since 1987, Robert Blecker has been writing and rewriting a stage play, Joseph Warren, hoping it will help bring back to life America’s greatest forgotten Founding Father and the principles for which he lived and died. The recipient of an unspent $20,000 Goldman Foundation grant, the play has had three rounds of equity readings and extensive critiques – one at Frauncis Tavern (1990), another at Ensemble Studio Theater (2000) and the latest at New York Law School (2010). Blecker is writing its sequel, Sam (Adams) & Paul (Revere) hoping the dramatic clash of iconic personalities will further popularize the ideals on which this Nation rests.
On November 19, 2013, Palgrave Macmillan published his crime and punishment memoir —THE DEATH OF PUNISHMENT: Searching for Justice Among the Worst of the Worst.
For my New York Law School biography list of other publications, click here.
Background in Theatre
Premiered at the Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. (12/1/87)
Following its premier, over the next three years, Vote NO! was performed 63 times in select venues in 16 states. Following each performance Blecker conducted a discussion with the audience, then announced their vote. Every audience but one voted “NO” on the U.S. Constitution including: Tufts University (04/11/88); Harvard University Kennedy School of Govt. (05/2/88; Maryland Council of Humanities (05/03/88; Piccolo Spoleto Festival (05/20/88); Statehouse Columbia S.C. (05/23/88); Clemson University, S.C. (05/24/88) Old Colony House, Newport R.I. (05/25/88); Hilton Head, Annual Conference of 50 States’ Attorneys General (06/88); Vt. State House (06/88); North Dakota State House (09/23/88); Dickinson U. (9/24/88); Fordham Law School Stein Institute of Law & Ethics (10/03/88); University of Connecticut Storrs (10/17/88); University of Colorado (02/89); Randolph Macon College, va (02/89); Rhode Island Supreme Court Law Day (05/01/89); Airforce Academy (08/28/89); Fraunces Tavern (NYC) 11/05/89; Providence Rhode Island Old State House (7/16/90); U.S. Airforce Academy (only lost vote 303-300) (8/27/90; Vermont ACLU (06/28/91) Minnesota Hennepin County Bar Association (09/16/91); University of Minnesota Law School (09/17/91); ACLU Eastern Missouri (10/20/91); Harvard Law School ACLU & Criminal Justice Society (10/26/91); Massachusetts ACLU (10/26/91); Badley University (11/18/91); U.S. Naval Academy (11/25/91); St. Paul’s Church, Mt. Vernon, NY (12/1/91); Alabama ACLU (12/9/91); U. of Wisconsin River Fall (11/2/92); United States Military Academy at West Point (08/27/93)
Theatre Press Coverage
- NPR “All Things Considered” Vote NO! replayed and interviewed (10/16/91);
- KNMU (10/16/01) re “Vote NO!”
- South Carolina Public Television, “Vote No!” (aired 5/20/88)
- KMOX Morning Meeting Show (re “Vote NO!” (10/21/91)