Anthony G. Amsterdam (1935–)

Anthony Amsterdam, law professor and opponent of the death penalty, earned an A.B. from Haverford College in 1957 and an L.L.B. in 1960 from the University of Pennsylvania. Amsterdam became an ardent opponent of capital punishment in 1963, after Justice Arthur Goldberg had written an unusual dissenting opinion on cases that had not been accepted for review. Goldberg’s dissent addressed six cases in which the defendants had been sentenced to death and noted that the death penalty was barbaric and constituted excessive punishment. Amsterdam, then a University of Pennsylvania law professor, formed a partnership with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund to mount a challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty.

Amsterdam successfully argued for the abolishment of the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), when the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty as then applied was inherently arbitrary and therefore unconstitutional. However, this moratorium on the death penalty did not last long. In 1976, the Court in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976), ruled that Georgia’s new capital punishment system had sufficiently dealt with the problem of arbitrariness.

While perhaps most noted for his argument against the death penalty, Amsterdam has litigated cases involving claims of free speech and the press, privacy, and equality for racial minorities and the poor. His teaching career has included teaching positions at the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, and, as of 1981, New York University, where he developed the ground-breaking course Lawyering Theory Colloquium, which researches how law school experiences later affect lawyering roles and behavior. Throughout his career he has extended pro bono serves to numerous civil rights, legal aid, and public defender organizations. Professor Amsterdam has established himself as a leading American legal scholar by writing extensively on issues such as legal pedagogy, experimental education, and cultural influences on Supreme Court opinions and rulings.


References and Further Reading

  • Amsterdam, Anthony G., and Jerome Bruner. Minding the Law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000. 
  • Tushnet, Mark. Constitutional Issues: The Death Penalty. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1994. 

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)
  • Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976)


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