George J. and Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law
Yale University, JD 1960
John Jay College, CUNY, LLD (Honorary) 2012
Hired by Thurgood Marshall, Professor Meltsner was first assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the 1960s, where he handled major cases before the federal courts. Among his clients were the North Carolina doctors and dentists who ended Southern hospital racial segregation, Mohammad Ali and numerous death row inmates challenging capital punishment. After co-founding the clinical program at Columbia Law School, he served as dean of Northeastern University School of Law from 1979 until 1984. His latest book With Passion: An Activist Lawyer’s Life has been widely praised; his memoir, The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer, was published in 2006. Among his other writings are: Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment; Public Interest Advocacy; Reflections on Clinical Legal Education; and Short Takes, a novel. With Passion tells of growing up in New York and his struggle to make sense of coming of age during a turbulent era. His 2011 play, “In Our Name: A Play of the Torture Years,” has been performed in New York and Boston to great acclaim.
In 1977, Professor Meltsner, who is also a marriage and family therapist, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has served as a consultant to the US Department of Justice, the Ford Foundation and the Legal Action Center and has lectured in Canada, Egypt, Germany, India, the Netherlands and South Africa. In 2000, he was named a fellow of the American Academy in Berlin. He returned to the School of Law in 2005 after five years as a visiting professor and director of the First-Year Lawyering Program at Harvard Law School. In 2010, he received the Hugo Bedau Award for excellence in death penalty scholarship. In 2012, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by John Jay College (CUNY) and described as the "principal architect of the death penalty abolition movement" in the United States. In September, 2017 he was selected to deliver the prestigious Alfange Lecture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is currently working on a novel inspired by a civil rights era killing.
Professor Meltsner teaches a seminar on constitutional litigation, the NULS First Amendment upper level course and works with Professor Burnham’s Cold Case seminar. He is a regular contributor to the press on a range of legal topics.
Fields of Expertise
- Capital Punishment
- Civil Rights
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law
- First Amendment
- Supreme Court
- Mosaic: Who Paid for the Bullet?, (Quid Pro Books, 2022).
- With Passion: An Activist Lawyer’s Life, (Twelve Tables Press, 2017).
- Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment (Quid Pro Books, 2011, 2nd edition).
- The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer, (University of Virginia Press, 2006).
- Reflections on Clinical Legal Education (Northeastern University Press, 1998) (co-author).
- Public Interest Advocacy: Materials for Clinical Legal Education, (Little Brown, 1974).
- Short Takes (Random House, 1980).
- “Awareness Must Bring Change: Atlanta Shootings Stir Up Strong Reactions From Students, Faculty,” Northeastern News (March 22, 2021).
- Letter to the Editor, “Trump Impeachment Trial, Take Two,” The New York Times (February 9, 2021).
- “Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Columbia,” Human Rights at Home Blog (September 21, 2020).
- “The Constitutional Fight Over Delay,” The Huffington Post (May 10, 2016).
- “The Dilemmas of Excessive Sentencing: Death May Be Different But How Different?,” 7 Northeastern Law Journal 5 (2015).
- “Charleston Then,” The Huffington Post (June 30, 2015).
- “US Experience with Doctors and Patients Sharing Clinical Notes,” The British Medical Journal 350 (2015).
- “The Tsarnaev Victims Should Have Their Say On Sentence,” The Huffington Post (April 29, 2015).
- “Time to End Mandatory Minimum Sentencing,” The Boston Globe (March 18, 2015) (co-author).
- “Thurgood Marshall's Improbable But Brilliant Choice,” The Huffington Post (January 7, 2015)
- “On the Virtues of A Wild Justice,” 48 New England Law Review 683 (2014).
- “A Patient's View of OpenNotes,” 157 Annals of Internal Medicine 523 (2012).
- “Writing and Reflecting and Professionalism,” 5 Clinical Law Review 455 (1999).
- “Wither Legal Education,” 30 New York Law Review 579 (1985).
- “Report From A CLEPR Colony,” 76 Columbia Law Review 581 (1976).
- “Innocence Before DNA,” in Wrongful Convictions and the DNA Revolution: Twenty-Years of Freeing the Innocent, ed. D. Medwed (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
- “In Our Name: A Play of the Torture Years” (2011).
- “Does a Fair Way to Decide Who Gets The Death Penalty Actually Exist?,” Slate (February 22, 2022).
- “Free-speech Protection Could be Fundamentally Changed by Sarah Palin's Libel Suit,” news@Northeastern (February 10, 2022).
- Video: “A Lens On Capital Punishment,” NDPA Video Series (April 2021).
- “Merrick Garland Faces First Death Penalty Test in Boston Marathon Bomber Case,” The Washington Examiner (March 17, 2021).
- Letter to the Editor: “Trump Take Two,” The New York Times (February 9, 2021).
- “As Trump Leaves Office, the Future of Federal Executions Is Likely To Change,” Northeastern News (January 14, 2021).
- “Repealing Life Without the Possibility of Parole,” The Framingham Tab (September 22, 2019).
- “The Return of the Federal Death Penalty,” Jurist (August 4, 2019).
- “The Mueller Report Found No Collusion Between Trump and Russia. but the Saga of the Russia Investigation Is Not Over,” news@Northeastern (March 25, 2019).
- “Why Do Supreme Court Justices Have Lifetime Appointments?,” news@Northeastern (September 21, 2018).
- “Kavanaugh Sex Allegation; Cop Manslaughter Trial Day 1; US Cuts Palestinian Aid,” Sputnik's Radio Hour (September 18, 2018).
- “‘What Happened to Alan Dershowitz?’,” Politico Magazine (May 11, 2018).
- “Medicare and the Desegregation of Health Care,” The Pulse (February 15, 2018).
- “7 Legal Experts on What Due Process Is in Law, Culture, and the Context of #MeToo,”Vox (February 11, 2018).
- “Q&A: A Civil Rights Lawyer Who Helped Defeat Jim Crow Looks Back,”The National Book Review (February 1, 2018).
- “Michael Meltsner, 13th Annual Alfange Lecturer, Releases New Book,” UMass Department of Political Science (January 23, 2018).
- “Massachusetts' Criminal Justice Overhaul Must Remove Barriers To Finding Employment,” WGBH's Legal Ease (co-author) (November 13, 2017).
- “Only Congress Has Clear Path to Trump's Removal from Office,”The Boston Globe (May 18, 2017).
- "Law Professors Examine the Constitutionality of Trump's Travel, Refugee Ban," news@Northeastern (January 31, 2017).
- “The Supreme Court Under a Trump Presidency,” news@Northeastern (November 10, 2016).
- “3Qs: Justice Scalia's Legacy, and What His Death Means for Politics and the Law,” news@Northeastern (February 16, 2016).
- “What Are the Chances the Death Penalty Can Be Ruled Cruel, Unnecessary Punishment?,” Newsweek (December 1, 2015).
- “Death Penalty and the Law,” The New York Times (November 12, 2015).
- Radio Interview: “Professor Michael Meltsner Discusses Supreme Court Lethal Injection,” WRKO Radio (June 30, 2015).
- “The Lethal Injection Decision,” Human Rights at Home Blog (June 29, 2015).
- “3Qs: Professors weigh in on SCOTUS decision, free speech on social media,” news@Northeastern (June 3, 2015).
- Radio Interview: “Massachusetts' Varied History With The Death Penalty,” WAMC Northeast Public Radio (April 22, 2015).
- “‘USA v. Tsarnaev’: Legal Questions Asked and Answered,” Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (January 22, 2015).
- “A Message on Torture from the U.S. Senate,” Human Rights at Home Blog (December 11, 2014).
- “Time for Some Candor From the Supreme Court,” The Huffington Post (July 26, 2014).