AMHERST, Mass. – Pioneering civil rights attorney Michael Meltsner, the Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law at Northeastern University School of Law, will deliver the annual Dean Alfange Jr. Lecture in American Constitutionalism at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 4 p.m. in the Amherst Room on the 10th floor of the Lincoln Campus Center. The lecture, “Degradation Ceremonies: Constitutional and Statutory Limits of the Punishment After Punishment,” is free and open to the public.
In an era of mass incarceration, hundreds of thousands of Americans—disproportionately minority—are released from prison every year. They face staggering numbers of adverse legal consequences flowing from a criminal record, disabilities created by a punitive society that amount to a form of ostracism and loss of full citizenship. Efforts to end this discrimination and reduce recidivism are common, and Meltsner’s lecture will attempt to address the question “What are the barriers to real reform and what can be done to overcome them?”
The first assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the 1960s, 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 following the Supreme Court’s decision in Furman v. Georgia.
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, and from 2000-04 he was a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and director of its experimental First Year Lawyering Program.
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. 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. His most recent book, Rape, Race and Injustice tells the story of a group of law students sent secretly to the South during the 1960s to collect proof of discrimination. His 2011 play, “In Our Name: A Play of the Torture Years,” has been performed in New York and Boston.
The Dean Alfange, Jr. Lecture in American Constitutionalism was established in 2005 by UMass Amherst alumni to honor professor emeritus Dean Alfange, Jr. of the department of political science for his many noteworthy contributions during a distinguished 32-year academic career. The annual lecture is organized by the department of political science.