Biden Nominates Professor Burnham to Civil Rights Cold Case Board


06.15.21 — President Joseph Biden has nominated University Distinguished Professor of Law Margaret Burnham to the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board. The board will review records that may pertain to federal civil rights crimes between 1940 and 1980 and facilitate their release to the general public. The Trump administration established the board in 2019, but took no action to fill its seats and left its $1 million budget unspent. President Biden nominated four scholars, including Burnham, to fill the vacancies, pending US Senate confirmation.

“It will be an honor to serve on this board, but the nomination really is in recognition of the painstaking dedication and brilliance of our law students, who have for over a decade sought to reconstruct this vital history,” said Burnham, founder and director of the law school’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ), a nationally recognized leader in investigating racial violence in the Jim Crow era and other historical failures of the criminal justice system.  “This board will streamline the process so that family members and researchers can have access to the documents they need to understand what happened so many years ago.”

The Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board was signed into law after receiving overwhelming bipartisan congressional support led by US Rep. Bobby Rush and Sens. Doug Jones, Ted Cruz and Kamala Harris, now the vice president. The bill was the result of the work from students attending Hightstown High School in New Jersey who helped draft the language. The board will establish a collection of civil rights cold case records to be maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, and make qualified records available to the public.

Among Burnham’s many honors and awards, she was named to the 2016 class of Andrew Carnegie Fellows, an honor recognizing a select group of scholars for their significant work in the social sciences and humanities. Burnham and CRRJ are frequently featured in the national press, including “Un(Re)Solved,” an unprecedented multi-platform investigation of civil rights cold case murders, produced by the PBS investigative series, FRONTLINE, that premiered this month. Burnham is also about to publish a related book, By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners.

Biden’s other nominees for the five-person review board include Clayborne Carson, a Stanford University professor and scholar on the life of Martin Luther King Jr.; Gabrielle Dudley, an instruction archivist at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University; and Henry Klibanoff, a Pulitzer Prize- and Peabody Award-winning journalist.

About Northeastern University School of Law

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