Meltsner, Michael 1937–

views updated

Meltsner, Michael 1937–

(Michael Charles Meltsner)


Born March 29, 1937, in New York, NY. Education: Oberlin College, A.B., 1957; Yale University, J.D., 1960.


Office—52 Cargill Hall, Northeastern University, 400 Huntingdon Ave., Boston, MA 02115. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]


Lawyer and writer. Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, first assistant counsel, 1961-70; Columbia University, professor of law; Northeastern University, professor and dean of law, 1979-84, George J. and Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished University Professor, 1984—; Harvard University, director of First Year Lawyering Program, visiting professor of law, 2000-04. Other academic appointments include lecturer on criminal law at New York University School of Law, New York, NY, 1967-69; visiting scholar at Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA, 1983; lecturer and consultant at the National Law School of India, Bangalore, India, and the Law Center II of New Delhi, India, 1998; lecturer at Humboldt University Faculty of Law, Berling, Germany, 1999; and guest professor at Albert Ludwigs-Universitat Freiburg, German, 2001, 2003, 2004. Has also concerned as a consultant to various organizations, schools, and foundations.


American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (clinical member, 1987-97), Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (member of children's rights committee, 1989-80), Society of American Law Teachers (member of the board, 1977-83).


Guggenheim fellow, 1977; American Academy, Berlin, Berlin Prize fellow, 2000.


Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment, Random House (New York, NY), 1973.

(With Philip G. Schrag) Public Interest Advocacy: Materials for a Clinical Legal Education, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974.

Toward Simulation in Legal Education: An Experimental Course in Pretrial Litigation, n.p. (New York, NY), 1975.

Short Takes, Random House (New York, NY), 1979.

(With Philip G. Schrag) Reflections on Clinical Legal Education, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 1998.

The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer (memoir), University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2006.

Contributor to law journals and periodicals, including the Journal of Legal Education, Criminal Law and Criminology, Newsday, Nation, American Lawyer, Negotiation Journal, and Clinical Law Review.


Michael Meltsner is a lawyer and educator who was the first assistant counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund in 1960s. He has written books on law and legal education and the 2006 memoir, The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer. Referring to the memoir as "a layered treat," Jon Goldberg-Hiller wrote in Law & Politics Book Review: "One part is romantic indulgence, a glimpse back into a time when civil rights had some progressive clout, when Jews and African Americans worked side by side for racial equality." Goldberg-Hiller continued: "A second part is a confirmation, clarification and sometime challenge to many of our central theories about cause lawyering on behalf of progressive social movements and the power that courts had and still have to remake our political worlds." According to Goldberg-Hiller, the book also has another component, which "is the compelling literary engagement with a fascinating lawyer, and his professional, strategic and personal interactions."

Focusing on his time at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the author recounts how a white lawyer who worked as a lawyer for Muhammad Ali, for the doctors who ended Jim Crow at American hospitals, and for scores of death row inmates became a devoted activist in the civil rights movement. In addition to writing about his personal history of the civil rights movement from a participant's perspective, Meltsner also examines law reform and provides numerous portraits of historic figures such as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and noted activist lawyer William Kuntsler. He includes an examination of early civil rights efforts to achieve social change through litigations and examines the wide context of the personalities, policies, and tactics that continue to play a role in shaping reform efforts in the twenty-first century.

Referring to The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer as "engaging," American Lawyer contributor Daniel Greenberg wrote: "In Meltsner's book we are the beneficiaries of his openness; he moves us seamlessly through civil rights issues from the 1950s to the present, blending personal observations with cogent analysis." Tony A. Freyer wrote in the Journal of Southern History: "Michael Meltsner's memoir is a valuable resource for historians. Employing an insightful, participant-observer perspective, Meltsner offers an insider's account of how and why civil rights lawyering influenced Americans' struggle against institutional discrimination and arbitrary authority since World War II."



Meltsner, Michael, The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2006.


American Lawyer, July, 2006, Daniel Greenberg, review of The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer, p. 81.

Booklist, April 15, 2006, Vernon Ford, review of The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer, p. 10.

Boston Globe, November 26, 2006, Sacha Pfeiffer, "Thoughtful Account of Life-shaping Career."

Christian Science Monitor, October 24, 1973, review of Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment, p. 9.

Journal of Southern History, August, 2007, Tony A. Freyer, review of The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer, p. 741.

Law & Politics Book Review, November, 2006, Jon Goldberg-Hiller, review of The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer, pp. 891-896.

Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, August 28, 2006, Jonathan Brant, "Commentary: ‘Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer’ Misses Its Mark."

New York Times, January 25, 1980, "Short Takes," p. C22.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2006, review of The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer.

Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly, August 28, 2006, Jonathan Brant, review of The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer.

Time, September 17, 1973, review of review of Cruel and Unusual, p. 94.

Vermont Law Review, Volume 31, 2007, James R. Randolph, Jr., review of The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer, pp. 907-924.


National Archive of Clinical Legal Education, Catholic University of America Web site, (June 6, 2008), "Transcription of the Oral History Interview with Michael Meltsner."

Northeastern University School of Law Web site, (June 6, 2008), faculty profile of author and author's CV.