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James Liebman

Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Law

James Liebman

Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Law

​James S. Liebman is the Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Law and director of the ​​Columbia ​Center for Public Research and Leadership​ (CPRL)​.  ​His work focuses on institutional design and change in public education and criminal justice.

Liebman founded ​CPRL in 2011 to engage graduate and professional students in projects designed to equalize school children’s access to high-quality public schools. The center, jointly sponsored by Columbia​'s​ Business and Law Schools and Teachers College, brings together students in business, education, law, and policy ​from over a dozen participating universities across the country to immerse themselves for a semester in the theory and practice of transformative change in public education.

From 2006 to 2009, Liebman ​led the New York City Department of Education’s Division of Accountability and Achievement Resources under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His division provide​d ​parents and educators with information ​and tools to improve student results and hold schools accountable for helping all students make academic progress. He received New York City’s 2009 Overall Excellence in Technology Award for his design of the city’s educational data system.

In the criminal justice context, Liebman’s work has focused on the death penalty, habeas corpus, and structures for improving the accuracy of guilt determinations. He has argued five cases in front of the United States Supreme Court in those areas and many others in lower federal and state courts.  He has received the Norman Redlich Capital Defense Distinguished Service and Pro Bono award, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Champion of Justice award, and a Soros Senior Justice Fellowship.

Liebman served as law clerk to Judge Carl McGowan of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia from 1977 to 1978, and to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens the following year. He was assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund from 1979 to 1985.

​​Liebman joined the Law School’s faculty in 1985, where he served as vice dean from 1991 to 1992. ​He earned his J.D. from Stanford University and his B.A. from Yale College.

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  • J.D., Stanford Law School, 1977
  • B.A., Yale College, 1974
Areas of Expertise
  • Criminal law
  • Habeas corpus, evidence, ethics, and death penalty
  • Equality and equal protection
  • Public interest advocacy
  • Education and the law
  • “Governance of Steel and Kryptonite Politics in Contemporary Public Education Reform,” (with Elizabeth Cruikshank and Christina Ma), Florida Law Review, 2017
  • The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution, (with Shawn Crowley, Lauren Gallo, Andrew Markquart, Lauren Rosenberg and Daniel Zharkovsky), Columbia University Press, 2014
  • “The Evidence of Things Not Seen: Non-Matches as Evidence of Innocence,” (with Shawn Blackburn, David Mattern & Jonathan Waisnor), Iowa Law Review, 2013
  • “Minority Practice, Majority’s Burden: The Death Penalty Today,” (with Peter Clarke), Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 2011
  • A Modern Approach to Evidence, (with Richard O. Lempert and Samuel Gross), West Group Co., 2013 (5th edition), 2011 (4th edition), 2000 (3rd edition)
  • “Slow-Dancing with Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment,” Columbia Law Review, 2007
  • “A Broken System: The Persistent Patterns of Reversals of Death Sentences in the United States,” (with Andrew Gelman, Alexander Kiss and Valerie West), Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 2004
  • “Experimentalist Equal Protection,” (with Brandon Garrett), Yale Law Policy Review, 2004
  • “A Public Laboratory Dewey Barely Imagined: the Emerging Model of School Governance and Legal Reform,” (with Charles F. Sabel), New York University Journal of Law and Social Change, 2002-2003
  • “The Overproduction of Death,” Columbia Law Review, 2000
  • “Some Effectual Power: The Quantity and Quality of Decision-making that the Constitution Demands of the Federal Courts,” (with William Ryan), Columbia Law Review, 1998
  • “Apocalypse Next Time? The Anachronistic Attack on Direct Review/Habeas Corpus Parity,” Columbia Law Review, 1992
  • “Voice, Not Choice: Review of Politics, Markets, and America's Schools,” (with John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe), Yale Law Journal, 1991
  • “Desegregating Politics: ‘All-Out’ Desegregation Explained,” Columbia Law Review, 1990
Activities and Affiliations
  • Founding Director, Center for Public Research and Leadership, Columbia Law School, 2011-present
  • Fellow, American Bar Foundation, 2011-present
  • Executive Committee, Columbia Human Rights Institute, 1999-present
  • Founder and Executive Director, Death Penalty Dialogue Project, 2000-2002
  • Commissioner, New York State of Education's Task Force on Educational Excellence and Equity, 1992
  • Member, American Bar Association Task Force Studying Federal Habeas Corpus Review of State Death Penalty Convictions, 1988-89
  • Member, State Bar of California, 1979
  • Member, State Bar of New York, 1988
  • Member of Bar of Supreme Court of the United States
Honors and Awards
  • Grants from the Arca, Horace W. Goldsmith, Overbrook, Tides, and Z. Smith Reynolds Foundations, the Open Society Institute, and Wallace Global Fund, to study the probability of executing the innocent, 2003-2005
  • Open Society Institute Grant to Create Nationwide System for Data Collection on Wrongful Convictions, 2002
  • Article Prize for an outstanding work in law and society scholarship for “The Overproduction of Death,” 100 Columbia Law Review 2030, 2000, Law and Society Association, 2002
  • Champion of Justice Award, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 2002
  • William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Grant, Public Problem Solving, 2001-2004
  • Public Interest Law Foundation of Columbia Law School, Public Interest Achievement Award, 2001
  • Open Society Institute Grants, Death Penalty Dialogue Project, 2000, 2001
  • National Institute of Justice Grant, Getting to Death: Fairness and Efficiency in the Processing and Conclusion of Death Penalty Cases After Furman, 2000-2001
  • Soros Senior Justice Fellowship, awarded by the Center on Crime, Communities & Culture of the Open Society Institute, 2000
  • Open Society Institute Grant, Life After Death: A Contextual Analysis of Judicial Review of Capital Verdicts, 1998


Criminal Law
P. Structural Change in Public Education Policy and Social Change Lab-Fieldwork
P. Structural Change in Public Education Policy and Social Change Lab-Skills Training
S. Public Education Policy Seminar and Practicum
S. Public Education Policy Seminar and Practicum-Fieldwork
S. Public Education Policy Seminar and Practicum-Skills Training
S. Structural Change in Public Education Policy and Social Change Lab