Mark Osler

Robert and Marion Short Chair, Professor of Law, University of St. Thomas

Mark Osler is a law professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN) whose work advocates for sentencing and clemency policies rooted in principles of human dignity. In 2013, he was awarded the Outstanding Teaching award by his school, and in 2015 the same award for his scholarship.

In 2014-2015 Osler's writing on clemency, sentencing, and narcotics policy has appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post, and has or will be published in law journals at Harvard, Stanford, Rutgers, Northwestern, Wayne State, DePaul, and the University of Chicago. His University of Chicago Law Review article (with Rachel Barkow) was highlighted in a lead editorial in the New York Times, in which the Times' editorial board expressly embraced Barkow and Osler's argument for clemency reform.

A former federal prosecutor, he played a role in striking down the mandatory 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine in the federal sentencing guidelines by winning the case of Spears v. United States in the U.S. Supreme Court, with the Court ruling that judges could categorically reject that ratio. He has testified as an expert before the United States Sentencing Commission and the United States House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Much of his work has been in collaboration with other academics, commentators, and judges, including Tom Ashbrook, Rachel Barkow, Amy Baron-Evans, Judge Mark W. Bennett, Dustin Benham, Douglas Berman, Jeanne Bishop, Graham Boyd, Judge Avern Cohn, Randall O'Brien, Randy Roberts Potts, Nkechi Taifa, and Bill Underwood.

Osler's 2009 book Jesus on Death Row (Abingdon Press) critiqued the American death penalty through the lens of Jesus's trial, and led to an improvised performance of that trial that has been conducted in 11 states, with Osler serving as the prosecutor. He serves as the head of the association of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools, and held the Byrd Preaching Chair at St. Martin's-by-the-Lake Episcopal Church in 2012. He has given sermons in five states and for three different denominations. His current work on clemency and mercy is rooted in ideals of the Christian faith. In 2011, he founded the first law school clinic specializing in federal commutations, and he trained hundreds of pro bono lawyers for Clemency Project 2014.

The character of Professor Joe Fisher in the Samuel Goldwyn film American Violet was based on Osler, and in 2014 he was the subject of profiles in Rolling Stone and The American Prospect. He is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and Yale Law School.

Mark Osler may be reached at