NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

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NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
FormationFebruary 12, 1940; 84 years ago (1940-02-12)
TypeNon-profit organization
Headquarters40 Rector Street, 5th floor New York City, New York, 10006 U.S.
Region served
United States
President and Director-Counsel
Janai Nelson

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (NAACP LDF, the Legal Defense Fund, or LDF) is an American civil rights organization and law firm based in New York City.

LDF is wholly independent and separate from the NAACP.[1] Although LDF can trace its origins to the legal department of the NAACP created by Charles Hamilton Houston in the 1930s,[2][3] Thurgood Marshall founded LDF as a separate legal entity in 1940, which became totally independent from the NAACP in 1957.[1]

Janai Nelson currently serves as the eighth President and Director-Counsel, since March 2022.[4] Previous Director-Counsels include Sherrilyn Ifill (2012–2022), John Payton (2008–2012), Ted Shaw (2004–2008), Elaine Jones (1993–2004), Julius Levonne Chambers (1984–1993), Jack Greenberg (1961–1984), and founder Thurgood Marshall (1940–1961).[5]


While primarily focused on the civil rights of African Americans in the U.S., LDF states it has "been instrumental in the formation of similar organizations that have replicated its organizational model in order to promote equality for Asian-Americans, Latinos, and women in the United States." LDF has also been involved in "the campaign for human rights throughout the world, including in South Africa, Canada, Brazil, and elsewhere."[1]

LDF's national office is in Manhattan, with regional offices in Washington, D.C. LDF has nearly two dozen staff lawyers and hundreds of cooperating attorneys across the nation.[1]

Areas of activity[edit]

  • Litigation
  • Advocacy
  • Educational outreach
  • Policy research and monitoring legislation
  • Coalition-building
  • Provides scholarships for exceptional African-American students.

Areas of concern[edit]

Creation and separation from the NAACP[edit]

The board of directors of the NAACP created the Legal Defense Fund in 1940 specifically for tax purposes.[6] In 1957, LDF was completely separated from the NAACP and given its own independent board and staff.[6] Although LDF was originally meant to operate in accordance with NAACP policy, after 1961, serious disputes emerged between the two organizations. These disputes ultimately led the NAACP to create its own internal legal department while LDF continued to operate and score significant legal victories as an independent organization.[3][7]

At times, this separation has created considerable confusion in the eyes and minds of the public.[7] In the 1980s, the NAACP unsuccessfully sued LDF for trademark infringement.[3] In its ruling rejecting the NAACP's lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recognized that the "universal esteem in which the [NAACP] initials are held is due in significant measure to [LDF's] distinguished record as a civil rights litigator" and that the NAACP has "benefitted from the added luster given to the NAACP initials by the LDF's litigation successes."[3]

Well-known cases[edit]

Probably the most famous case in the history of LDF was Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case in 1954 in which the United States Supreme Court explicitly outlawed de jure racial segregation of public education facilities. During the civil rights protests of the 1960s, LDF represented "the legal arm of the civil rights movement" and provided counsel for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., among others.[1]


  • 1935 Murray v. Pearson, removed unconstitutional color bar from the University of Maryland School of Law admission policy. (Managed by Thurgood Marshall for the NAACP before the formal foundation of LDF.)
  • 1938: Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, invalidated state laws that denied African-American students access to all-white state graduate schools when no separate state graduate schools were available for African Americans. (Handled by Thurgood Marshall for the NAACP before the formal foundation of LDF.)






  • 1980: Luévano v. Campbell, struck down Federal government use of a written test for hiring into nearly 200 entry-level positions because the test disproportionately disqualified African Americans and Latinos.
  • 1980: Enmund v. Florida, struck down a federal "felony murder" statute.
  • 1982: Bob Jones University v. U.S. and Goldboro Christian Schools v. U.S., denied tax exempt status to religious schools that discriminate on the basis of race.
  • 1983: Major v. Treen, overturned a Louisiana gerrymander intended to reduce African-American voting strength.
  • 1984: Gingles v. Edmisten, continued as Thornburg v. Gingles (1986), the Supreme Court ruled that at-large countywide election of state legislators illegally discriminated against black voters, and the Court established the standard for identifying "vote dilution" under the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act.
  • 1986: Dillard v. Crenshaw County Commission: a district court ordered over 180 of the local government bodies in counties, cities, and school boards in Alabama to change their methods of election because intentionally racially discriminatory state laws had made it extremely difficult for Black voters to elect their preferred candidates to local office.[9]
  • 1987: McClesky v. Kemp: in a 5–4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Georgia's death penalty and held that statistical evidence showing pervasive racial bias in the administration of the death penalty was not sufficient to invalidate a death sentence.[10]
  • 1988: Jiggets v. Housing Authority of City of Elizabeth: a district court ordered the HUD to spend $4 million to upgrade predominantly black, as well as predominantly white, housing projects in the city, and to implement federal maintenance, tenant selection and other procedures equitably.
  • 1989: Cook v. Ochsner: in a belated coda to Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, a District Court approved a settlement ending a New Orleans hospital's discrimination in emergency room treatment and patient admissions. The settlement also provided increased opportunities for African-American physicians to practice at the hospital.



  • 2000: Rideau v. Whitley, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit threw out the 28-year-old, third conviction of Wilbert Rideau for murder because of discrimination in the composition of the Grand Jury that originally indicted him more than 40 years earlier. (Rideau was retried, convicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter, and released in 2005.)
  • 2000: Smith v. United States, was resolved when President Clinton commuted the sentence of Kemba Smith. Smith was a young African-American mother whose abusive, domineering boyfriend led her to play a peripheral role (she did not sell drugs but was aware of the selling) in a conspiracy to obtain and distribute crack cocaine. She had been sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 24+12 years in prison even though she was a first-time offender.
  • 2000: Cromartie v. Hunt and Daly v. Hunt, ruled that it is legal to create, for partisan political reasons, a district with a high concentration of minority voters; hence the North Carolina district from which Mel Watt was elected to the House of Representatives was ruled not to be an illegal gerrymander.
  • 2003: Gratz v. Bollinger, ordered the University of Michigan to change admission policies by removing racial quotas in the form of "points", but allowed them to continue to utilize race as a factor in admissions, to admit a diverse entering class of students.
  • 2007: Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, the Supreme Court ruled racial quotas unconstitutional in PK–12 school assignment, but allowed other remedial school integration programs to continue[12]
  • 2009: Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, the Supreme Court ruled the Voting Rights Act Section 5 preclearance process constitutional. LDF presented oral argument at the Supreme Court on behalf of a group of African-American voters.[13]


  • 2010: Lewis v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the City of Chicago can be held accountable for each and every time it used a hiring practice that arbitrarily blocked qualified minority applicants from employment. LDF presented oral argument in this case in the Supreme Court.[14]
  • 2013: Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, ending the Section 5 preclearance regime. LDF presented oral argument and represented a group of African-American voters in the Supreme Court.[15]
  • 2013: Fisher v. University of Texas, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of affirmative action, and remanded the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for a second view. LDF represented the Black Student Alliance and the Black Ex-Students of Texas, Inc.[10]
  • 2014: Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Michigan's Proposal 2 voter initiative, which amended the state's constitution to make affirmative action illegal in public employment, public education or public contracting purposes. LDF represented the Plaintiffs challenging Proposal 2.[10]
  • 2016: Fisher v. University of Texas II, Following the remand to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the Supreme Court again upheld the constitutionality of affirmative action. LDF represented the Black Student Alliance and the Black Ex-Students of Texas, Inc. in oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals and in an amicus brief in the Supreme Court.[16]
  • 2016: Veasey v. Abbott, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, sitting en banc, held that Texas's 2011 voter photo identification law violated the Voting Rights Act and that there was sufficient evidence to find that the Texas Legislature might have passed the law for the purpose of discriminating against Black and Latino voters. LDF presented oral argument in the Fifth Circuit on behalf of Black students and the Texas League of Young Voters.[17]
  • 2017: Buck v. Davis, the Supreme Court reversed the death sentence of Mr. Duane Buck because Mr. Buck's trial attorney introduced evidence that suggested Mr. Buck was more likely to commit violent acts in the future because he is black. LDF represented and presented oral argument on Mr. Buck's behalf in the Supreme Court.[10]
  • 2018: Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education and Gardendale Board of Education, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, blocked the City of Gardendale's attempt to secede from the larger Jefferson County school system because Gardendale's purpose was to create a mostly white school system separate from the more racially diverse Jefferson County schools. LDF represents and presented oral arguments on behalf of Black students opposed to the separation.[18]


  • 2020: LDF v. Barr, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted summary judgment to LDF and ruled that the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice violated multiple requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, halting the Commission's operations until it was brought into compliance with federal law.[19]
  • 2020: Harding v. Edwards, in September 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana granted a preliminary injunction that required Louisiana to extend the early voting period by three days and provided voters at highest risk of serious illness from COVID-19 with the option to vote by mail in the November and December 2020 primary and general elections.[20]
  • 2020: Thomas v. Andino, in May 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina granted a preliminary junction that prohibited South Carolina from enforcing its witness signature requirement for absentee voters in the June 2020 primary elections. The court found that forcing people to obtain the signature of a third-party witness on their absentee ballot would endanger their health and safety in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.[21]
  • 2020: NAACP v. United States Postal Service, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the US Postal Service's widespread disruptions in mail delivery violated federal law and risked delaying the delivery of mail-in ballots — thereby causing voter disenfranchisement. On October 10, 2020, the court granted a preliminary injunction motion suspending service changes that had disrupted mail delivery. The court issued a series of additional orders leading up to the November 2020 General Election, which required the US Postal Service to take extraordinary measures to ensure the timely delivery of ballots and to provide daily updates about the delivery status of mail-in ballots. LDF represented the NAACP and individuals in the litigation.[22]
  • 2023: Allen v. Milligan, on June 8, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a preliminary injunction against the State of Alabama's 2021 congressional districts and ruled that Alabama's map is racially discriminatory in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court also upheld the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in the redistricting context. LDF represented Milligan plaintiffs in the lower courts and presented oral argument on behalf of the Milligan appellees in the Supreme Court.
  • 2024: Robinson v. Ardoin, On June 6, 2022, the middle district of Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction against Louisiana’s congressional map, which contained one majority-minority district out of six districts despite Louisiana having a black population of about 30%. While the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit declined to stay the ruling, on June 28, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari before judgment and stayed the case pending the outcome of Milligan. After the Milligan decision, on June 26, 2023, the Supreme Court dismissed Louisiana's appeal and ordered the case to be resolved in the lower courts “in advance of the 2024 elections.” After further review, on November 10, 2023, the Fifth Circuit agreed that Louisiana likely violated the Voting Rights Act, and ruled that the Louisiana state legislature must draw a new, fair map by January 15, 2024, or the district court would proceed with trial on the Voting Rights Act claims in early 2024. On January 19, 2024, the Louisiana Legislature responded by drawing a new congressional map that added a second majority-Black district. LDF represented the Robinson plaintiffs in the Supreme Court and lower courts.
  • 2024: Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, on January 6, 2023, a three-judge district court ruled against the State of South Carolina’s 2021 congressional map and concluded that the map is an unconstitutional racial gerrymander and intentionally discriminatory in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Supreme Court took the case up on direct appeal and heard oral arguments on October 11, 2023. LDF represented the plaintiffs at trial and presented oral argument on their behalf in the Supreme Court.

Prominent LDF alumni[edit]

A number of prominent attorneys have been affiliated with LDF over the years, including Barack Obama who was an LDF cooperating attorney.[1] The following, non-exhaustive list of LDF alumni demonstrates the breadth of positions these attorneys have held or currently hold in public service, the government, academia, the private sector, and other areas.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Transformative History of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  2. ^ "LDF@70: 70 Years of Fulfilling the Promise of Equality" (PDF). Retrieved November 19, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d "NAACP v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., 753 F.2d 131 (D.C. Circuit 1985)". Retrieved November 19, 2010.
  4. ^ "Introducing LDF's New President and Director-Counsel: Janai Nelson". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved April 28, 2022.
  5. ^ "History". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved November 13, 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Bush v. Orleans Parish School Board and the Desegregation of New Orleans Schools". History of the Federal Judiciary. Federal Judicial Center. Archived from the original on February 21, 2014.
  7. ^ a b Hooks (1979)
  8. ^ Tarter, Brent. "Aline Elizabeth Black (1906–1974)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved August 24, 2015.
  9. ^ A Timeline of LDF's over 75-Year History of Defending Voting Rights in Alabama (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on July 6, 2020
  10. ^ a b c d "NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  11. ^ ...
  12. ^, The official site provides a Flash-based history of the major cases taken on by LDF. This article has taken extensive portions of this page with the permission of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the copyright holder of that material.
  13. ^ "Supreme Court Ruling Leaves in Place Core Provision of the Voting Rights Act". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  14. ^ "NAACP Legal Defense Fund Succeeds in Defending Rights of 6,000 African-American Applicants for Chicago Firefighter Jobs | NAACP LDF". Archived from the original on November 27, 2010.
  15. ^ "Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  16. ^ "U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Reaffirms the Importance of Diversity in College Admissions". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  17. ^ "LDF Applauds Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals En Banc Decision Finding Texas Voter ID Law Discriminatory". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  18. ^ "LDF Applauds Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals En Banc Decision Finding Texas Voter ID Law Discriminatory". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  19. ^ "LDF v. Barr". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  20. ^ "Harding v. Ewards". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved May 4, 2022.
  21. ^ "Thomas v. Andino". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  22. ^ "LDF Files Agreement Requiring USPS to Implement Key Measures to Prioritize and Expedite Ballot Delivery in Georgia Runoff Election". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
  23. ^ "U.S. Senate Confirms EEOC Chair, Two Commissioners and General Counsel". Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  24. ^ Shechet, Ellie (November 2, 2018). "The Most Important Midterm Race is One You Haven't Heard About". Vice. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  25. ^ Robert L. Carter
  26. ^ Mississippi Freedom Summer
  27. ^ Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, Green v. County School Board of New Kent County
  28. ^ 'Eric Holder In Profile,' Washington Post, November 18, 2008
  29. ^ 1997-Elaine Jones Archived 2009-05-15 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ "The New York Times – Search". Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  31. ^ "David Kendall – Williams & Connolly LLP". Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  32. ^ Holmes, Steven A. (June 12, 1997). "Asian-American Is Named To Top Civil Rights Position". The New York Times. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  33. ^ "Dennis D. Parker - National Center for Law and Economic Justice".
  34. ^ Weigel, David (August 22, 2012). "Reince Priebus, The Least Interesting Man in the World". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  35. ^ "Theodore M. Shaw". Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  36. ^ "LDF President Ted Shaw Joins Columbia Law Faculty". Columbia Law School. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  37. ^ "Columbia Law School : Full Time Faculty : Theodore M. Shaw". November 9, 1961. Archived from the original on July 28, 2010. Retrieved December 9, 2010.
  38. ^ "NAACP's Theodore Shaw to Discuss "The Continuing Struggle for Racial Justice"". Office of Communications. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  39. ^ "Meet the people behind the Innocence Project".
  40. ^ "MSNBC Public Relations on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  41. ^ Mueller, Benjamin (August 31, 2017). "Chairwoman Steps Down at New York City Police Oversight Agency". The New York Times.

Further reading[edit]

  • Clemon, U. W., and Bryan K. Fair. "Making Bricks Without Straw: The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Development of Civil Rights Law in Alabama 1940-1980." Alabama Law Review 52 (2000): 1121+. online
  • Greenberg, Jack. Crusaders in the Courts: Legal Battles of the Civil Rights Movement (2004)
  • Hooks, Benjamin L. "Birth and Separation of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund," Crisis 1979 86(6): 218–220. 0011–1422
  • King, Gilbert. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (2012) Pulitzer Prize; excerpt
  • Klinetobe, Charles. "Jury Trials and Gerrymanders: The Legal Effort to Maintain Segregation in July of 1957." The Historian 68.2 (2006): 221-240.
  • Mosnier, L. Joseph. Crafting Law in the Second Reconstruction: Julius Chambers, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Title VII. (2005).
  • Tauber, Steven C. "The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the U.S. Supreme Court's Racial Discrimination Decision Making," Social Science Quarterly 1999 80(2): 325–340.
  • Tauber, Steven C. "On Behalf of the Condemned? The Impact of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on Capital Punishment Decision Making in the U.S. Courts of Appeals," Political Research Quarterly 1998 51(1): 191–219.
  • Tushnet, Mark V. Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1936–1961 (1994)
  • Ware, Gilbert. "The NAACP-Inc. Fund Alliance: Its Strategy, Power, and Destruction," Journal of Negro Education 1994 63(3): 323–335. in JSTOR
  • Watkins, Steve. The Black O: Racism and Redemption in an American Corporate Empire (2013) specific to the 1993 Haynes v. Shoney's case. portions in Google Books

External links[edit]