Demand the Impossible: One Lawyer's Pursuit of Equal Justice for All (Hardcover)

Demand the Impossible: One Lawyer's Pursuit of Equal Justice for All By Robert L. Tsai Cover Image

Demand the Impossible: One Lawyer's Pursuit of Equal Justice for All (Hardcover)

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How four Supreme Court cases in recent years—all argued and won by one indomitable lawyer—are central to the pursuit of equal justice in America.


Stephen Bright emerged on the scene as a cause lawyer in the early decades of mass incarceration, when inflammatory politics and harsh changes to criminal justice policy were crashing down on the most vulnerable members of society. He dedicated his career to unleashing social change by representing clients that society had long ago discarded, and advocated for all to receive a fair trial.


In Demand the Impossible, Robert L. Tsai traces Bright’s remarkable career to explore the legal ideas that were central to his relentless pursuit of equal justice. For nearly forty years, Bright led the Southern Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit that provided legal aid to incarcerated people and worked to improve conditions within the justice system. He argued four capital cases before the US Supreme Court—and won each one, despite facing an increasingly hostile bench. With each victory, he brought to light how the law itself had become corrupted by the country’s thirst for severe punishment, exposing prosecutorial misconduct, continuing racial inequality, inadequate safeguards for people with intellectual disabilities, and the shameful quality of legal representation for the poor.


Organized around these four major Supreme Court cases, each narrated in vivid and dramatic detail, Tsai’s essential account explores the racism built into the criminal justice system and the incredible advancements one lawyer and his committed allies made for equal rights. An electrifying work of legal history, Demand the Impossible reveals how change can be won in even the most challenging times and how seemingly small victories can go on to have outsized effects.



Robert L. Tsai is Professor of Law and Law Alumni Scholar at Boston University. He is the author, most recently, of Practical Equality, and his essays have appeared in the New York Review of Books, Politico, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Slate. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC.
Product Details ISBN: 9780393867831
ISBN-10: 0393867838
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: March 12th, 2024
Pages: 240
Language: English
Thoughtful and well researched, this hopeful and inspiring book will appeal to those in the legal field seeking to end the legacy of mass incarceration, as well as to anyone with an interest in helping to fix America’s profoundly broken carceral system. Tsai’s book makes an excellent complement to Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. Provocative, necessary reading.

— Kirkus Reviews

Tsai’s tight focus on one lawyer’s uphill battle against inequity is inspiring, especially as it expands outward to track the implications of each victory. Readers interested in criminal justice reform will want to check this out.
— Publishers Weekly

Traces the groundbreaking and influential career of lawyer Stephen Bright….Tsai conveys all the tension and drama of Bright's arguments and how they changed the perspectives of individual justices and the overall courts.
— Booklist

Beautifully written. At a time when heroes and inspirational figures are in short supply, Tsai provides a compelling account of how Stephen Bright fought for justice.
— Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Berkeley School of Law and author of We the People

An inspiring account of one of our nation’s greatest lawyers, an advocate who has prioritized the poor, the vulnerable, and the condemned over money, fame, and the privileged. Stephen Bright is a rare legal champion for justice. This book reveals much about this extraordinary man and the critically important human rights he has passionately defended.
— Bryan Stevenson, best-selling author of Just Mercy

Riveting. This behind-the-scenes thriller brings to life stories of against-the-odds legal triumphs in cases of life or death. These victories shed light on the gross injustices and systemic racism that still infect our legal system. A must-read for everyone who cares about ensuring justice.
— Carol S. Steiker, Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and coauthor of Courting Death

As Tsai’s latest deeply moving and sobering book makes so clear, this nation’s moral arc can indeed bend toward justice, but only when we are unfailing in our conviction that it can, and are unflinching in our insistence that it does.
— Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Blood in the Water