Michael Meltsner
The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer


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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.

photo by Heli Meltsner

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.

Books by the same author available at www.abebooks.com:
Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment
Random House (1973)

Short Takes, a novel
Random House (1979)

Reflections on Clinical Legal Education (with Schrag)
Northeastern University Press (1998)


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