Michael Meltsner
The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer


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News & Recent Activity


Quid Pro Books is pleased to announce the official release--in paperback, hardcover, and ebook formats such as Kindle--of your compelling new novel, Mosaic. As you know, this novel explores the reality-based murder of a charismatic female doctor in the 1960s Deep South, and the search of one lawyer for the powers behind her killing. Some advanced praise is:

  • "Michael Meltsner's hot exploration of a cold murder case is a gripping who-done-it, accompanied by brilliant insights into racial neuroses of all varieties. His nonfiction expertly describes race in the law; here, his fiction deftly probes mysteries of race in the mind and heart. I found Mosaic a fascinating read." — Randall Kennedy, Professor, Harvard Law School
  • "Meltsner, one of the most important civil rights lawyers in American history, masterfully blends fact and fiction in this page-turning account of a doctor's courageous quest to expose racism at an Alabama hospital." — Evan Mandery, Emmy and Peabody Award Winning Author of the novel Q
  • "I couldn't put this book down, caught by a riveting plot and the echoes of a far-off news story I had been curious about. A brave woman physician is brutally murdered in the South. Meltsner has beautifully captured the mood of lonely melancholy necessary to tell this story." — Jacqueline Olds, M.D., Author of The Lonely American and Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

2022 News and Highlights

  1. (With Daniel Medwed) Does a Fair Way To Decide Who Gets The Death Penalty Actually Exist?
    https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2022/02/the-death-penalty-is-arbitrary-and- capricious.html
  2. Mosaic: Who Paid for the Bullet? (Quid Pro Books)
    A life changing true crime story, Mosaic: Who Paid for the Bullet? tells of the sixties murder of a charismatic doctor who courted danger trying to dismantle a racially segregated healthcare system in a large southern city. The search for who ordered the killing takes her civil rights lawyer-lover to the centers of power, forcing him to confront the meaning of revenge for a crime that occurs at the intersection of hate and greed, after a well-planned government intervention goes deadly wrong.
  3. Furman and Beyond: An Interview with Michael Meltsner
    by Evan Mandery,43 Amicus Journal 28.
  4. The Many Lives of Constance Baker Motley, 2
    American Journal of Law and Equality
  5. A Day of Constitutional Reckoning Approaches
    The American Prospect, December 20, 2022
  6. Health Equity Lecture Presentations (with Leila Morsey): Cornell Medical School; Northeastern University School of Law Colloquium Series; University of Minnesota Medical School Grand Rounds scheduled 2/2023. Also, Hopkins Health Equity Discussion Group.
  7. Book readings: Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA; Cambridge and Rockport MA public Libraries; Massachusetts Historical Society; North Hill Independent Living; Paul Weiss et all NYC sponsored by The Legal Action Center; MASS HUMANATIES (via zoom).

2021 Highlights

  • Mosaic: Who Paid For The Bullet? (Book forthcoming April 2022)
  • Racial Justice Fellow, Northeastern Center for Race, Law and Justice
  • 50th Anniversary of Furman v. Geogia (with Dan Medwed) (forthcoming, 2022)
  • Lecture on discrimination in health care (Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory University)
  • Amicus participation in Court of Appeals, DC Circuit re: Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman Al Hela (Guantanamo Case)
  • Appeared on Ken Burns Mohammad Ali video series commenting on former client.

2020 Highlights

  • Fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights, Harvard University
  • Member of the Board, Mass Humanities
  • Participation in Amicus Briefs filed in Torres v Madrid, before SCOTUS and Qassim v. Trump in the DC Circuit.
  • American Academy of Appellate Lawyers panel on Supreme Court Term Limits (6/20)
  • Review of "Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Justice System" by Alec Karakatsanis. (New England Law Review)

2019 Highlights

  • Appearance on panels at the Museum of Arts and Harvard Medical School commenting on the film The Power to Heal describing the anti-discrimination health care litigation that ended "separate but equal" and became the underpinning of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act
  • With Daniel Medwed : "Repealing life without the possibility of parole sentences," Framingham Wicked Local (9/22/19)

2018 Highlights

  • Panelist at 50th anniversary celebration of the case (Green v New Kent County) that ended "all deliberate speed"
  • Speaker at Harvard Law School Jack Greenberg memorial event
  • Narration of the first cold case podcast from the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice project
  • Amicus brief filing in Tsarnaev death case appeal
  • Book reviews of With Passion (Twelve Tables Press) appeared in the Criminal Law Bulletin and the Journal of Legal Education
  • Book lectures at Cambridge and Rockport (MA) public libraries

November 2017
Publication of With Passion: An Activist Lawyer's Life by Twelve Tables Press.

October 2017
Festschrift at Northeastern University honoring the career of Michael Meltsner.

September 2017
The Punishment after Punishment
Delivered the the Alfange Lecture at U. Mass. AmherstᾹ"The Punishment after Punishment," on the problem of collateral consequences of a criminal conviction.

June 2016 — February 2017
Paper commenting on the new book by Carol and Jordan Steiker, Courting Death, at the Harvard Law School Conference on the Supreme Court and Capital Punishment.

Lecture sponsored by the Georgetown University Student Forum on "Civil Rights Under a Trump Administration."

Talk on Thurgood Marshall, sponsored by the New Rep Theatre Group of Watertown Ma after a performance of George Steven's play Thurgood.

May 2016
The Constitutional Fight Over Delay


"Innocence Before DNA" delivered at the Wrongful Convictions and the DNA Revolution conference at Northeastern University School of Law (9/25/15). Cambridge University Press publication forthcoming.

Paper on the history of Gregg v Georgia delivered March 31, 2016 at the Forty Years after... National Conference on the Death Penalty at the University of Texas Law School, Austin.

April 26, 2016
Keynote address on Life Without Parole sentencing at 20 th anniversary celebration of the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition (CJPC)

June 2015
Human Rights at Home

3Qs: The death penalty's constitutionality

Professor Michael Meltsner Discusses Supreme Court Lethal Injection

Charleston Then

March 2015
Mandatory Minimums with Daniel Medwed

December, 2014
"A Message On Torture From The U.S. Senate in Human Rights at Home" http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/human_rights/2014/12/a-message-on-torture-from-the-us-senate.html.

Next performance of In Our Name: A Play of the Torture Years
Written by Michael Meltsner, Directed by: Victoria Marsh
On March 19th at 4 pm in the Blackman Auditorium on the campus of Northeastern University

"Time for some, Candor from the Supreme Court" in the Huffington Post October 15, 2014

On Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Meltsner

Burnham/Meltsner/Derfner amicus brief in State v. Stinney Jr.
(On December 17, 2014 writ of error coram nobis granted and judgment vacated.)

"On the Virtues of A Wild Justice," 48 New England L. Rev. 683 (2014)

June 9, 2014
At the 2014 Northeastern University School of Law Commencement Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy spoke in tribute to the careers of Michael Meltsner and Margaret Burnham http://www.northeastern.edu/law/news/commencement/

March 28, 2014
The first Hugo Adams Bedau Memorial Lecture at Tufts University: The Dilemmas of Excessive Sentencing: PDF

March, 2014
Speech at the New England School of Law Colloquium honoring Evan Mandery's Wild Justice

February, 2014
Consulted on the amicus brief filed by the Civil Rights Restorative Justice program in the case of wrongly convicted and executed 14 year old George Stinney seeking posthumous exoneration

Fall, 2013
Keynote Address at the celebration of Eugene G. Wanger's gift creating the Henry Schwarzschild Memorial Collection at the National Death Penalty Archives

Read my review of the Elevator Repair Service production of Arguendo

Here is link to Evan Mandery's Fresh Air interview re A Wild Justice

Letter to NYTimes Book Review

Deciding Death
A new editorial piece by Michael Meltsner has been published at Huffington Post.

IN OUR NAME: A PLAY OF THE TORTURE YEARS will be performed on January 29 at 4 PM at the Northeastern University School of Law, 400 Huntington Avenue. Tickets are free but seating is limited. Seats can be reserved before January 18th at emailing lawevents@neu.edu.

In an October, 2012 editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Professor Meltsner commented on "A Patient's View of OpenNotes," a study that seeks to improve doctor-patient communication by ennsuring access by patients to their doctor's notes, including after a visit. Meltsner's editorial has been widely quoted in the national press.

"As we enter the age of electronic medical records, with access to patient information almost a civil right, it is good to remember that communication patterns change in ways that reflect different community expectations and values," writes Meltsner, who recounts how opennes from doctors in regard to his own medical condition confirmed his belief that transparency is essential.

The study, published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is the culmination of an experiment known as OpenNotes. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle took part in the trial, which included 105 primary-care doctors and 13,564 of their patients who had at least one note available to them during the voluntary program.

The New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement, New England Law Boston's Center for Law and Social Responsibility will present a dramatic reading of In Our Name: A Play on the Torture Years
Followed by a panel discussion
September 21, 2012 at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre
4:00 pm - 7:00 pm

John Jay College (CUNY) awared the Honorary Doctor of Laws on May 31, 2012 to "Michael Meltsner...as the principal architect of the death penalty abolition movement in the United States."

The staged reading of IN OUR NAME: A PLAY OF THE TORTURE YEARS took place on March 27th 2012 at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, followed by a discussion between the audience and a distinguished panel. The play was produced by Company One, directed by Victoria Marsh.

New York performances:
May 9, 1:30 and 8:30 pm; May 14, 1:30 and 8:30 pm; May 23, 8 pm--Black Box Theater, 524 West 59th Street.
Email for reservations: loren.lopez@jjay.cuny.edu

The Norwood Press has published "In Our Name: A Play of the Torture Years." (Copies available from the author)

Quid Pro Books has issued new edition of “Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment” (2011) featuring a Foreword by death-penalty author Evan Mandery of CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, as well as a new Preface by the author.

Quid Pro Books has also issued a new edition of "Short Takes," a novel first published by Random House in 1980.

Forthcoming (2012) from the University of Tennessee Press: Edited by Michael Meltsner, the late Barrett Foerster's "Race, Rape, and Injustice: Documenting and Challenging Death-Penalty Cases in the Civil Rights Era." (originally titled: "The First Domino: How a Few Law Students Helped Change Southern Death Penalty Justice Forever.")

Acquitted For Insanity, Man Sues State Saying He Never Was Insane

Stand Down, "Cruel and Unusual"

Capital Punishment

A Classic Book Reissued

Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty presented the Hugo Adam Bedau Award for outstanding contributions to death penalty scholarship to Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law Michael Meltsner during a celebration on December 4, 2010.

"We Come For Many Reasons But Stay For One" in Cambridge Voices: A Literary Celebration of Libraries and Reading (A publication of the Friends of the Cambridge Public Library, 2009).

"In Our Name", A play about America's torture years (2010).

Videoconference with a group of activists and American Studies students in Amman, Jordan on "The Uses of The Legal System to Effect Social Change." organized by the United States Embassy and the Department of State's Office of Democracy and International Security (2010).

A short course on Recent Developments in American Constitutional Law presented to the students at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg, Germany (2010).

" Public Interest Lawyers During South Africa's Apartheid Years" a talk to students and faculty at Seton Hall University's Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations (2010).

A panel honor of the City's new library building and of Cambridge Voices, a book about writers' library experiences. Appearance with local writers Mary Catherine Bateson and Mark Feeney (2010).

Interviews with WGBH TV's Greater Boston, the Wall Street Journal and the Canadian Medical Association Journal on the Open Notes Project, an experiment in making physicians' notes freely available to their patients (2010).

Now In Paperback

"It was not until I arrived at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund that I learned my profession, how to work with colleagues and clients, and how it might feel to grow up in the law." So begins Michael Meltsner's vivid account of how as a lawyer for Muhammad Ali, for the doctors who ended Jim Crow at American hospitals, and for scores of death row inmates he became such a deeply involved activist in the civil rights movement. Part memoir and part critical study, The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer offers both a personalized history of the civil rights movement from a participant's perspective, and the compelling account of how a lawyer committed to social change discovered himself in his work.

click to enlarge

Focused on the inside story of law reform, the book contains portraits of some larger-than-life figures, including Thurgood Marshall, William Kuntsler, and the charismatic black law professor Derrick Bell, as well as of unheralded movers and shakers such as the attorney C. B. King of Albany, Georgia, and Margaret Burnham, who as a young lawyer representing Angela Davis got caught in a racial and generational crossfire. Alongside these recollections, Meltsner provides a critical analysis of early civil rights efforts to achieve social change through litigation while also providing the wider context of the personalities, policies, and tactics that continue to shape reform efforts today.

Deeply researched and using case files that have previously been off-limits to historians, The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer will appeal to young and upcoming lawyers, to students of the history of the 1960s, of civil rights, and of African American studies, and to anyone interested in social change.

Appearances 2007

October 2, 2007 (Noon) University of Richmond School of Law, Westhampton Way, Richmond, Va.

March 21, at 7:30 pm, Newton, Ma. Public Library, 330 Homer Street, Newton Centre. Book Talk and Signing.

Appearances (2006)

June 26: National Press Club, Washington DC. Keynote speaker at the Death Penalty Information Center's 10th annual Thurgood Marshall Journalism Awards luncheon.

June 30 Reading: 7 pm, Porter Square Books, Porter Square Shopping Center, Cambridge, MA.

July 1 Reading: 1 pm, Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

July 2: Interview, KPFA/Pacifica Radio's Sunday Salon, hosted by Larry Bensky, 9AM Pacific Time

Sunday, July 23, 10 pm: The Jordan Rich show, WBZ Boston.

September 18: Mass. Liberal Arts College, N. Adams, Ma

September 20: At noon, Center for Civil Rights, University of North Carolina School of Law, Chapel Hill, NC

September 21: At noon, Duke Law School, Durham, NC (Webcast at http://www.law.duke.edu/webcast)

September 21 Reading: 7 pm at Regulator Bookshop, 720 Ninth Street, Durham NC

October 3: Reading for the Massachusetts Appleseed Center, Boston

October 5: Reading for Northeastern University School of Law Alumni, Boston

October 10: Northeastern University School of Law Dinner, Northhampton

October 12: Reading sponsored by the American Constitution Society, Indiana University School of Law, Bloomington

October 17-18, Reading- Lecture, Vanderbilt University Law School, Nashville

November 8: Massachusetts School of Law in Andover, Ma: reception and book lecture, 4.30-6.30 PM.

November 13-14, Reading-Lecture Vermont Law School, South Royalton


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