Exemplifying The Best Of The Legal Profession

John D. Bessler

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John Bessler is of counsel at Berens & Miller. From 1998 to 2007, he worked as a commercial litigator with Barbara Berens, the law firm’s managing partner. A former law firm partner, John renewed his association with the firm in 2016 by becoming of counsel. A 1991 cum laude graduate of Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington, John has taught as a law professor since 1998. He teaches at the University of Baltimore School of Law and the Georgetown University Law Center, and previously taught at the University of Minnesota Law School, The George Washington University Law School, and Rutgers School of Law. A two-time Minnesota Book Award finalist, John is the author of six books and has won numerous awards for his writing. His latest book, The Birth of American Law: An Italian Philosopher and the American Revolution (2014), won the Scribes Book Award – an annual award given out since 1961 by The American Society of Legal Writers “for the best work of legal scholarship published during the previous year.” John has extensive experience as a civil litigator, was the Senior Managing Editor of the Indiana Law Journal, and was a law clerk for U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. “Jack” Mason in the District of Minnesota. John has handled a wide variety of complex litigation matters and has appeared in federal and state courts and in administrative proceedings.

John is also an internationally recognized expert on capital punishment, and he has written and spoken extensively on that topic in the United States and abroad.  He was recently asked to edit and write a long introduction for a book that will reprint U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s recent dissent in Glossip v. Gross, 135 S. Ct. 2726 (2015), a death penalty case.  The book, titled Against the Death Penalty, will be published by Brookings Institution Press in August 2016.

Current Employment Position

  • Of Counsel

Past Positions

  • University of Baltimore School of Law, Associate Professor, 2009-Present
  • Georgetown University Law Center, Adjunct Professor, 2010-Present
  • Rutgers School of Law, Summer Instructor, 2015
  • The George Washington University Law School, Visiting Associate Professor, 2007 to 2009
  • University of Minnesota Law School, Adjunct Professor, 1998 to 2006
  • Kelly & Berens, P.A., Associate/Partner, 1998 to 2007
  • U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Mason, United States District Court, District of Minnesota, Law Clerk, 1996 to 1998
  • Faegre & Benson, LLP, Associate, 1991 to 1996

Practice Areas

  • Business Litigation


  • Indiana University at Bloomington School of Law, Bloomington, Indiana
    • J.D. - 1991
    • Honors: cum laude
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
    • B.A. - 1988
    • Major: Political Science
  • University of Oxford, Oxford, England, M. St., International Human Rights Law, 2008 (High Pass)
  • Hamline University, St. Paul, MN, M.F.A., 2005

Bar Admissions

  • Minnesota, 1991
  • U.S. District Court District of Minnesota
  • U.S. Court of Appeals 8th Circuit
  • U.S. Supreme Court, 2009


  • First Prize, Scribes Book Award (2015)
  • First Prize, American Association for Italian Studies Book Award (2015)
  • Gold Winner, 2014 IndieFab Book of the Year Award (2015)
  • Silver, 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award (U.S. History Category, 2013)
  • Finalist, 2012 ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award (History Category, 2013)
  • Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Award (2008)
  • Silver, 2007 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award (2008)
  • 2007 Midwest Book Awards Finalist (2008)
  • Minnesota Book Award Finalist (2004)
  • Minnesota Book Award Finalist (1998)

Published Works

  • Justice Stephen Breyer, Against the Death Penalty (book editor), forthcoming from Brookings Institution Press, August 2016
  • The Death Penalty as Torture: From the Dark Ages to Abolition, forthcoming from Carolina Academic Press, August 2016
  • The Birth of American Law: An Italian Philosopher and the American Revolution, Carolina Academic Press, 2014
  • Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders’ Eighth Amendment, Northeastern University Press, 2012
  • Writing for Life: The Craft of Writing for Everyday Living, Bottlecap Books, 2007
  • Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota, University of Minnesota Press, 2003
  • Kiss of Death: America’s Love Affair with the Death Penalty, Northeastern University Press, 2003
  • Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America, Northeastern University Press, 1997
  • “Beccaria in America: How the Italian Enlightenment Shaped American Law,” in Lorenzo Picotti, ed., Alle radici del diritto penale moderno: l’illuminismo giuridico di Cesare Beccaria di fronte al potere di punire (Napoli: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 2015)
  • “Cesare Beccaria et les débuts de la réforme pénale américaine,” in Michel Porret & Elisabeth Salvi, eds., Cesare Beccaria, la controverse pénale, XVIIIème-XXIème siècles (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2015) (Pascal Bastien, trans.)
  • “The American Enlightenment: Eliminating Capital Punishment in the United States,” in Lill Scherdin, ed., Capital Punishment: A Hazard to a Sustainable Criminal Justice System? (Surrey, U.K.: Ashgate, 2014).
  • “Capital Punishment Law and Practices: History, Trends, and Developments,” in James R. Acker, Robert M. Bohm and Charles S. Lanier, eds., America’s Experiment with Capital
  • Punishment: Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future of the Ultimate Penal Sanction (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 3d ed. 2014)
  • The Death Penalty in Decline: From Colonial America to the Present, 50 CRIM. L. BULL. 245 (2014)
  • The Anomaly of Executions: The Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause in the 21st Century, 2 BRIT. J. AM. LEG. STUDIES 297 (2013)
  • Tinkering Around the Edges: The Supreme Court’s Death Penalty Jurisprudence, 49 AM. CRIM. L. REV. 1913 (2012)
  • Revisiting Beccaria’s Vision: The Enlightenment, America’s Death Penalty and the Abolition Movement, 4 NW. J. L. & SOC. POL’Y 195 (2009)
  • In the Spirit of Ubuntu: Enforcing the Rights of Orphans and Vulnerable Children Affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa, 31 HAST. INT’L & COMP. L. REV. 33 (2008)
  • The “Midnight Assassination Law” and Minnesota’s Anti-Death Penalty Movement, 1849-1911, 22 WM. MITCHELL L. REV. 577 (1996)
  • The Public Interest and the Unconstitutionality of Private Prosecutors, 47 ARK. L. REV. 511 (1994)
  • Televised Executions and the Constitution: Recognizing a First Amendment Right of Access to State Executions, 45 FED. COMM. L.J. 355 (1993)
  • Defining “Co-Party” Within Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 13(g): Are Cross-Claims Between Original Defendants and Third-Party Defendants Allowable?, 66 IND. L.J. 549 (1991)