HONORABLE ARTHUR L. BURNETT, SR.

Honorable Arthur L. Burnett, Sr. is a member of the Right Beginnings Board of Directors. Honorable Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., Retired Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and the first African American United States Magistrate Judge in the United States in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (June 26-1969 – December 1, 1975 is as a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Howard University School of Liberal Arts and an honor graduate of New York University School of Law in 1958 following which he entered the United States Department of Justice as a Criminal Division lawyer. After a two-year break in the United States Army on active duty, he returned to the U.S. Department of Justice where he served as a Special Assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy on major criminal cases and as a monitor of the Civil Rights Movement. In April 1965 he became a Senior Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia where he served for almost 4 years before becoming the Legal Adviser (now called General Counsel) for the Metropolitan Police Department following the aftermath in the District of Columbia resulting from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In the interval between serving as United States Magistrate Judge (1969-1975) and (1980-1987), he served as the Chief Legal Adviser for the Civil Service System and Legislative Counsel to President Jimmy Carter on all civilian personnel matters and government reorganization matters.  

In 1987 he was appointed to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia by President Ronald Reagan and served as a full-time active judge until October 1998 at which time he took Senior Judge Status but continued to sit full time and serve in a volunteer capacity as Judge-in-Residence to the Children’s Defense Fund. In April 2004 he was one of the Principal Founders of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. under the leadership of Clyde E. Bailey, Jr., then President of the National Bar Association. He continues today since August 2004 as the full time volunteer Chief Operating Officer of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. as its Vice President of Administration and National Executive Director.

In March 2017 he was selected by the International Association of Top Professionals as Top Judge for 2017  from over 50 judges they considered from all over the world. In April 2017 he was chosen by Who’s Who in America for the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award, named after the founder of Who’s Who, the highest recognition given by that organization. Finally, in June 2017 the Book PIECES NEVER MISSING REQUIRED IN A CHILD’S LIFE of which he is Co-author was released dealing with the ideal of what fathers’ engagement should be in their children’s moral values development and education in America for the future of this Nation.

Arthur Louis Burnett, Sr. originally of Spotsylvania County, Virginia, came to Howard University in 1952 with the goal of going to it and its law school, but as a result of achieving a straight 4.0 average in his first year, he was designated to appear on then Congressman Adam Clayton Powell’s television show protesting segregation in America and coined the phrase that a person should be judged by the quality of his performance and not by the color of his skin or race. Following the decision in Brown v. Board of Education by the United States Supreme Court on May 17, 1954 in the Fall of 1954 he was persuaded by Dr. James Nabrit, Vice-President of Howard University and Chief Counsel in Sharpe v. Bolling, the District of Columbia Case consolidated in Brown, to change his plans and to apply to law school in his Junior Year because of his outstanding record, and was then introduced to Thurgood Marshall, with the plan to become the lead plaintiff in the Prince Edward – Farmville School Cases to enter the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville, Virginia and to compel the Commonwealth of Virginia to abandon its massive resistance to desegregation of its schools. From October 1954 to April 1955 preparations were made to bring him into the Virginia  case and he lived under threats from the Ku Klux Klan of death, but then Governor Orval Faubus threatened to close all the schools in Arkansas, and Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP decided that they did not have sufficient funds and resources to go forward with cases both in Arkansas and in Virginia, and they got Virginia to agree to pay all of his expenses to attend law school in New York, and he entered New York University School of Law in 1955, made Law Review and graduated in the top 10% of his Law School Class in June 1958. While in law school he returned to Howard in the Summers to finish it 4-year curriculum and received his College Degree in October 1957 Summa Cum Laude and his law degree in June 1958, thus completing seven (7) years of formal college and professional education in six (6) years.

He entered the U.S. Department of Justice in the Attorney General’s Honors Program in June 1958, but shortly thereafter in November entered the U.S. Army for two years. Upon returning to the Department in December 1960, following the swearing in of Robert Kennedy as Attorney General in January 1961 he was designated as the Liaison Attorney from the Criminal Division to the Attorney General to keep him advised of all the major criminal cases in the United States, including the government corruption cases, and to assist him in monitoring the Martin Luther King movement. In that role he was appointed a Special Prosecutor of two (2) U.S. Congressman in the United States District Court for Maryland arising out of the then Savings and Loan scandals in Maryland and for his work with the Attorney General in 1963 received the Attorney General’s Sustained Performance Award. He continued in this role until April 1965 when he left the Department to become a senior Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia and in December 1968, he was appointed as the first Legal Advisor, a position now called General Counsel, over the Metropolitan Police Department. After a short stint there preparing General Orders and advising the Chief of Police and upper level officials on law enforcement procedures which complied with United States Supreme Court decisions to respect the rights of all individuals with reference to arrest and search procedures, interrogation and lineup and identification processes, he was appointed the first African American United States Magistrate (now called Magistrate Judges) in the United States on June 26, 1969 and led the effort to reform the intake procedures for the federal judicial system in education and implementation of issuing of arrest and search warrants, bail hearings, the conduct of preliminary hearings to determine the sufficiency of evidence to warrant a case going forward against an accused individual, to respect the constitutional rights of all individuals irrespective of race, national or ethnic origin, or any other basis of unlawful discrimination.

In December 1975 he left the position of United States Magistrate to become the Chief Legal Adviser to the United States Civil Service System for the Executive Branch of Government, and subsequently became a principal adviser to President Jimmy Carter on government reorganization and civil service matters, and was the principal drafter of the Bill that became the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which described the duties and responsibilities of the Office of Personnel Management, the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Office of Special Counsel, and the Federal Labor Relations Authority, and which created the Senior Executive Service. In January 1980 he returned to the Judicial system as United States Magistrate Judge and in November 1987 he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

In 1970 he became a member of the John Carroll Society and served on its Board of Directors and also started his outreach to the youth in the Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese and participated extensively in the Catholic Schools attended by his children. As a result in 1991 he received the Papal Medal, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, for his service to the Catholic Church and Community. He also began his extensive experience in working with the Children’s Defense Fund in the late 1980’s to protect the rights of children in America. The combination of these two experiences led him to retire as an active Associate Judge in October 1998 to become a Senior Judge and the Judge-in-Residence with the Children’s Defense Fund and in August 2004, to take Inactive Status and a Sabbatical as a Senior Judge to become the National Executive Director of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, which was later incorporated as a non-profit legal entity in January 2006, where he was one of the three (3) Founders and became the Vice President of Administration, in which capacity he continues to serve to date. In 1997 he also became an Adjunct Professor at Catholic University teaching Appellate Practice in the Columbus School of Law, which he did for more than ten (10) years. Today, in his capacity as the National Executive Director of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc., he devotes his efforts to endeavors to remove all the remaining vestiges of unlawful discrimination and disparate treatment in the Public Affairs of this Nation in areas dealing with not only substance abuse and mental health, but in all the areas impacted by our policies and their implementation in these areas – our healthcare system, our criminal justice and juvenile justice system, in education, access to affordable housing, workforce development and employment, and the treatment of our veterans afflicted with these problems. To put it rather simply, he has devoted the last eight (8) years of his life to finishing the unfinished business of Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, Jr. to eradicate from American life all the remaining vestiges of unlawful discrimination in the Public Affairs of this Nation  and to assure that all individuals are treated equally based on the content of their character and the quality of their performance in life.

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