Meltsner Honored with Bedau Award
Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty will present the the Hugo Adam Bedau Award for outstanding contributions to death penalty scholarship to Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law Michael Meltsner during a celebration on December 4, 2010.
As first assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the 1960s, Professor Meltsner was a member of the team that designed the anti-capital punishment litigation that led to Furman v. Georgia, the 1972 case in which the Supreme Court decided that capital sentencing laws in force in 39 states amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. More than 600 lives were saved, and Professor Meltsner went on to serve as a key member of a team of lawyers who represented hundreds of men on death row. He argued his first capital case before the Supreme Court when he was 26 years old.
Professor Meltsner is the author of the definitive history of NAACP LDF's campaign, Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment, which Anthony Lewis called "an important book, revealing the way law is made in the United States" and Yale Law Professor Charles Black said it was an "indispensable" guide to capital punishment litigation. In a lengthy study that appeared in the Harvard Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review, philosopher and death penalty scholar Bedau, for whom the award is named, wrote that not since Lewis' celebrated Gideon's Trumpet "have we had such an educational study of change in the criminal law." Bedau's praise was echoed by the Columbia Law Review, which called Cruel and Unusual a "lucid and absorbing account of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's successful attempt to halt capital punishment."
Professor Meltsner, also well known for his representation of Mohammad Ali in the lawsuit that brought Ali back to boxing, became a member of the Columbia law faculty in 1970. With professor Philip Schrag, he founded the school's first legal clinic as well as Morningside Heights Legal Services, a law office for the indigent staffed by Columbia students. He became dean of Northeastern University School of Law in 1979 and Matthews Distinguished University Professor in 1984. The author of Short Takes, a novel about the life of a New York lawyer in the 1970s, his most recent book is The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer. He currently teaches courses on constitutional litigation and First Amendment law.
In addition to the Bedau Award, the 2010 Ehrmann Award will be presented to the Dead Man Walking School Theater Project, an organization founded by actor and director Tim Robbins to educate high school and college students about the death penalty. Sister Helen Prejean, a previous Ehrmann Award recipient, will present the award.
Founded in 1928, MCADP is the oldest active anti-death penalty organization in the United States. Admission is free but rsvp required. Visit www.mcadp.org to register.