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.
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.
The event is open to the campus and the public. This lecture series was inaugurated by the students of our colleague and professor, Dean Alfange, Jr., in honor of his teaching and mentoring.