Michael Meltsner


Michael Meltsner was a 24 year old Yale Law graduate, a New Yorker who had left the country after taking the bar exam rather than become an associate at a large law firm, when he returned to work for Thurgood Marshall as the second white lawyer on the staff of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He had grown up at a violent time in New York history in a small, vulnerable family unable to keep him from an adolescence dominated by fear of Manhattan gangs, life in Greenwich Village and an enigmatic parental charade.

Meltsner would come of age in the sixties filing hundreds of lawsuits to integrate major southern institutions and arguing dozens of them before the Supreme Court and lower federal courts. He represented Muhammad Ali in the case that removed legal barriers barring his return to the boxing ring after refusing induction in the Army, tried the case that led to the integration of southern hospitals and was one of the initiators of the campaign that resulted in a nine-year moratorium of the use of capital punishment.

As a professor at Columbia Law School, Meltsner was a co-founder of the school's first poverty law clinic, a program that trained law students by giving them actual experience working with clients and in the courts. In 1979, he became the dean of the Northeastern Law School in Boston, where he is the Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law; from 2000 to 2004 he was a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and Director of its experimental First Year Lawyering Program.

Michael Meltsner has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Prize Fellow of the American Academy of Berlin. He has served as a consultant to the United States Department of Justice, the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation, which sent him to South Africa in 1978 to help set up a law defense fund to advocate against Apartheid. The author of five previous books including Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment (Random House, 1973) and a novel, Short Takes(Random House) in 1979, he is also a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Biography from http://www.michaelmeltsner.com/bio.html.

Michael Meltsner Curriculum Vitae




With Passion: An Activist Lawyer’s Life (2017; Twelve Tables Press)

“Innocence Before DNA,” in Medwed, editor, Wrongful Convictions (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

Rape, Race and Justice, Editor and preface, (University of Tennessee Press, 2012)

Essay in Cambridge Voices, (Cambridge Public Library, 2009)

The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer (University of Virginia Press, 2006)

Reflections on Clinical Legal Education (with P. Schrag) (Northeastern Univ. Press, 1998).

"On Death Row, The Wait Continues" in The Burger Years (Schwartz edit.), (Viking, 1987).

Short Takes, a novel, (Random House, 1980).

Toward Simulation in Legal Education: An Experimental Course in
Pretrial Litigation (with P. Schrag). Published by grant from the Council on Legal Education for Professional Responsibility, (New York ,1975); (Foundation Press edition, 1979).

Introduction, Death Penalty by L. Stevens (1978).
Public Interest Advocacy: Materials for Clinical Legal Education (with P. Schrag) ( Little, Brown and Co., 1974).

Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment, (Random House, 1973). (Second Edition, Quid Pro Books, 2011)

"Southern Appellate Courts: A Dead End," in Southern Justice (L. Friedman, edit.) (1965).

Articles and Journal Contributions

Huffington Post articles:

“A Road Map For Death Penalty Abolition” ((October 6, 2016); “Charleston Then”(June 27, 2015); “The Tsarnaev Victims Should Have Their Say On Sentence” (April 29, 2015); “Thurgood Marshall's Improbable But Brilliant Choice” (January 7, 2015);“Time For Some Candor From The Supreme Court” (July 25, 2014);“Arguendo” (September 26, 2013); “Deciding Death” ( June 6, 2013).

Other: A Failing Grade For A ‘Broken System,’ Boston Globe, (July, 2006).

“Celebrating The Lawyering Process,” 10 Clinical Law Review327 (2003).

“Me And Muhammad,” 12 Marq. Sports Law Rev. 583 (2002).

“Writing and Reflecting and Professionalism” 5 Clinical Law Review 455 (1999).

Review: “Confronting Unequal Protection of the Law,” 24 NYU Review of Law and Social Change 123 (1999) (with H. Subin).

"The Late Justice," in The Nation (February 15, 1993).

"The Jagged Line Between Mediation and Couples Therapy," 9 Negotiation Journal 261 (1993).

"The Bike Tour Leader's Dilemma: Talking About Supervision," (with James Rowan and Daniel Givelber) 13 Vt. Law Review 399 (1989).

Book Review: Sanford Levinson, "Constitutional Faith" in The Nation (March 20, 1989).

"Shifting The Focus of Associate Training," (with James Rowan and Daniel Givelber) The American Lawyer (November, 1988).

"A Proposal for a General Practice Program at the Vermont Law School," Published by the faculty and dean of the Vermont Law School (1986).

"Healing The Breach: Harmonizing Legal Practice and Education," 11 Vt. Law Review 377 (1986).

"Wither Legal Education," 30 N.Y. Law Review 579 (1985).

Contributor to "Fifteen Years of the Burger Court," The Nation, (September 29, 1984).

"Feeling Like a Lawyer," 34 Journal of Legal Education, 624 (1984).

"The Coming Bloodbath," Newsday (February 27, 1984).

Introduction to Symposium on Current Death Penalty Issues (with Marvin Wolfgang) 74 J. of Criminal Law and Criminology 659 (1983).

Book Review: Jack Bass, "Unlikely Heroes," in The Nation (June 27, 1981).
"Public Interest Law: Some Practical Aspects," (with P. Schrag), in Taking Ideals Seriously (Robert L. Ellis, ed.) The Equal Justice Foundation, Inc. (1981).

Book Review: Christopher Davis, "Waiting For It," The Nation (September 28, 1980).

Book Review: Richard Sennett, "Authority," Boston Sunday Globe (July, 1980).

Book Review: Woodward and Armstrong, "The Brethren," The Nation (February 2, 1980).

Book Review: John Morton Blum, "The Progressive Presidents," Boston Sunday Globe (June 8, 1980).

"Reassessing Law Schooling: The Sterling Forest Group," 53 N.Y.U.L.Rev. 570 (1978).

"Scenes From a Clinic," (with P. Schrag), 127 University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 1 (1978).

"Report From a CLEPR Colony," (with P. Schrag), 76 Col.L.Rev., 581 (1976).

"The Fight to Save Mozart," MORE (April, 1975).

Book Review: "Trial Manual For The Defense Of Criminal Cases," ALI-ABA CLE Review (February 14, 1975).

"Cruel and Unusual Punishment," New York Times, Op-Ed Page (October 11, 1974).

"Stolen: One 1965 Buick," New York News Magazine (May 5, 1974).

Review: "Cruel and Unusual Justice," by Jack Newfield, New Republic (April 6, 1974).

"Test Case Planning For The Trial Bar," (with P. Schrag) Trial Magazine (Jan./Feb. 1974).

"Legal Aid After The Walkout," (with P. Schrag) Pro Bono Report (December, 1973).

"Negotiating Tactics For Legal Services Lawyers," (with P. Schrag), 7 Clearinghouse Review, 259 (1973).

"An Act To Promote The Rehabilitation Of Criminal Offenders In The State Of New York," 24 Syracuse Law Review, 885 (1973) (with M. Caplan and W. Lane).

"Litigating Against The Death Penalty," 82 Yale Law Journal, 1111 (1973).

"Clinical Education At Columbia: The Columbia Legal Assistance Resource," 24 Journal of Legal Education, 237 (1972).

Book Review: Jack Newfield, "Law Against The People," New York Times (March 5, 1972).

"Capital Punishment: The Moment of Truth," Juris Doctor (Nov. 1971).

"Minimum Standards Proposed to Govern Bail Practices In Courts Of The State Of New York," (for the Committee on Criminal Courts of the Association of the Bar), 26 The Record, 402 (1971).

"The Future Of Correction: A Defense Attorney's View," 17 Crime and Delinquency, 266 (1971).

"Pre-Trial Detention, Bail Pending Appeal, and Jail Time Credit: The Constitutional Problems and Some Suggested Remedies," 3 Criminal Law Bulletin, 618 (1967).

"Equality and Health," 115 University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 22 (1966).



Smith v. Morrilton, 365 F.2d 770, 784 (8th Cir. 1966) (Blackmun, J.).

Flemings v. Chafee, 300 F. Supp. 193, 203 (E.D.N.Y. 1971) (Weinstein, J.).

Flemings v. Chafee, 485 F.2d 544, 556 (2nd Cir. 1973) (Kaufman, J.).


Honorary Doctor of Laws, John Jay College, CUNY (2012)

Hugo Bedau Award for death penalty scholarship, Massachusetts Committee Against the Death Penalty (2010)

Prize Fellowship, American Academy of Berlin (2000)

Association of the Bar, City of New York, Thurgood Marshall Award (1998).

Named Matthews Distinguished University Professor, Northeastern University (1987).

American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award (1985).

Writer in Residence, Yaddo Foundation (1983).

John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, for research on the legal profession (1977-78)


The Punishment After Punishment, The Alfange Lecture, U Mass Amherst, (2017)

Remembering Thurgood Marshall, Talk after the play “Thurgood” at the New Rep Watertown, MA (2017)

Keynote, Annual Meeting of the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition (2016)

Cambridge Public Library, panel on Cambridge Voices (March 11, 2010)

Guest Lectures on civil rights history, teleconference sponsored by the Department of State (Indonnesia (2008) Jordan (2010))

Keynote Address, Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards, sponsored by the Death Penalty Information Center, (2006) National Press Club

“First Year Lawyering” lecture delivered at Osgoode Hall Law School (Toronto, 2003)

Lecturing to Law Faculties and Students in German and Indian Universities Under Sponsorship of the USIA and the Ford Foundation, respectively (1999).

“There Is Work To Do If It’s The Work You Want To Do,” Georgetowm Law School (1998).

The Sterry Waterman Lecture, Vermont Law School (1986).

"Whither Clinical Legal Education," presented to New York Law School Symposium, (1985) .

"Capital Punishment Revisited," Seattle King County Bar Association (1981).

Address on The Third Year of Law School, American Bar Association Law Dean's Workshop (1979).

"Public Interest Law," presented to faculty and students of University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa (1978).

Address to Clinical Section, American Association of Law Schools (1975).

"Capital Punishment," at the University of Toledo School of Law (1973).

Address to the annual meeting of the National Legal Aid and Public Defender Association (1968).