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Judge Arthur Louis Burnett, Sr.

Street Law, Inc.

Over 40 years of educating about law, democracy, and human rights

Judge Arthur Louis Burnett, Sr.

Judge Arthur Louis Burnett, Sr.

Judge Arthur Louis Burnett, Sr. is a historical figure who has long been a champion for equal rights for African Americans and the poor.  During college and law school, he was an supporter of abolishing segregation in schools and in public life.  He continued to promote equal rights during his 55 years as a lawyer, 40 of which he served as a judge.

Born in 1935 in Sportsylvania County, VA, Judge Burnett attended Summit Elementary, John H. Wright High School, Howard University, Summers College, and New York University Law School.

Between 1953 and 1954, Judge Burnett promoted his message of equality for all on the radio with Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. From 1961 to 1964, he worked in the Department of Justice with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to promote equality and fairness in our criminal justice system.  In 1968, he served as legal advisor to the Metropolitan Police Department in the District of Columbia to ensure they complied with the law and respected the rights of people of color. 

When Judge Burnett became the first African-American to hold the position of United States Magistrate Judge in 1969, he worked to reform bail practices and preliminary hearings and to promote judicial education to bring about equality in the treatment to all persons appearing in the federal court system.   He went on to become a general jurisdiction court judge and set an example of model court operation in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for 17 years.

Judge Burnett is currently the national executive director of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. (NAADPC). One of the many objectives of the NAADPC is to restore equity to the criminal justice system by addressing the disproportional adverse effect of drug law enforcement on people of color and the poor.

In fall 2013, Judge Burnett served as a civil rights "Legend" to students at Capital City Charter School as part of Street Law's Closing the Gap initiative.


Want to get involved? Volunteers are needed for the spring 2014 session of Closing the Gap! Contact Janae Harrison for more information (