Faculty Directory


Oberlin College, AB 1957
Yale University, JD 1960
John Jay College, CUNY, LLD (Honorary) 2012


Professor Michael Meltsner is retired from the faculty. 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. He argued and won a capital case before the Supreme Court in 1963 when he was 26 years old. 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 is Mosaic: Who Paid for the Bullet? a novel about a forgotten civil rights era murder. Randall Kennedy called it a “gripping who-done-it, accompanied by brilliant insights into racial neuroses of all varieties.” Professor Meltsner’s 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 and Reflections on Clinical Legal Education (with Philip Schrag), Short Takes, a novel, and With Passion, which tells of growing up in New York and his struggle to make sense of coming of age during a turbulent era. His 2011 play about Guantanamo, “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 Northeastern 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.

Fields of Expertise

  • Capital Punishment
  • Civil Rights
  • Constitutional Law
  • Criminal Law
  • First Amendment
  • Supreme Court

Selected Works

Michael Meltsner

Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law Emeritus


Curriculum Vitae SSRN Author Page @michaelmeltsner