Brennan Center for Justice

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Brennan Center for Justice
Established1995; 29 years ago (1995)
PresidentMichael Waldman
ChairPatricia Bauman and Robert A. Atkins
Budget$21,201,609 (2017)[1]

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law (NYU Law) is a liberal[2][3][4] or progressive[5] nonprofit law and public policy institute. The organization is named after Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. The Brennan Center advocates for public policy positions including raising the minimum wage, opposing voter ID laws, and calling for public funding of elections.[6][7] The organization opposed the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by nonprofits.[8][9]

The organization's stated mission is to "work to hold our political institutions and laws accountable to the twin American ideals of democracy and equal justice for all."[10] Its president is Michael Waldman, former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton.

History and mission[edit]

The Brennan Center for Justice was founded in 1995 by the family and former law clerks of Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., whom The Washington Post called "the progressive voice of the modern court".[11] Justice Brennan's idea of a living constitution figures largely into the center's work.[12] The Brennan Center started with an initial grant by the Carnegie Corporation of New York of $25,000 in 1996. The Carnegie Corporation in years since has donated over $3,650,000.[13] During the selection process of what school to center operations from, the Brennan Center selected NYU Law out of a choice of three schools, with the other two being Harvard University and Georgetown University.[13]

The Brennan Center is part think tank, part public interest law firm, and part advocacy group. The organization is involved in issues such as opposing voter ID laws that it believes unduly restrict voter registration, and other barriers to registration and voting, and advocates for redistricting reform and campaign finance reform.[14][15]


The Brennan Center's work is divided into three programs—Democracy, Justice, and Liberty & National Security.[16] Past programs focused on criminal justice, poverty, and economic justice.[17] The organization has focus on issues both at the national level in the United States but also at the state and local levels of government.[13]

The Brennan Center opposes mass incarceration and produces research on causes of violent crime in the United States.[18][19][20] The Brennan Center has represented several detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and also U.S. citizens or legal residents held as unlawful enemy combatants.[21] Attorneys from the Brennan Center challenged a U.S. President's authority to declare a prisoner to be an unlawful enemy combatant in the war on terror. They have also challenged the U.S. Congress's power to deny habeas corpus to such prisoners.[22]

The Brennan Center assisted in drafting and enacting the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA). The law banned soft money contributions to political campaigns. The organization helped Senator Dick Durbin write the Fair Elections Now Act.[23]

The Brennan Center advocated for the passage in 2010 of New York's law ending prison-based gerrymandering, and was part of a coalition of organizations that sought to defend that law from a court challenge.[24] The Brennan Center advocates for the restoration of felon voting rights.[25]

The Brennan Center represented plaintiffs Margarita López Torres, other unsuccessful judicial candidates, and Common Cause, in a lawsuit that challenged the way New York state trial judge candidates gain access to the ballot. They prevailed in the U.S. District Court and in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. In 2007, attorneys from the Brennan Center argued N.Y. State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres before the United States Supreme Court. In 2008, the court ruled for the state.[26]

In 2015, the Brennan Center submitted an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, urging the state not to overturn John Doe law, which allows the state to conduct criminal investigations in secret.[27][28][29]

The Brennan Center has been tracking states' legislation on voter ID laws and other barriers to voter registration and voting to determine whether there is undue burden carried by certain communities. Numerous lawsuits have been brought against states in such cases. By August 1, 2016, rulings in five cases: Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, overturned certain voter ID and other provisions, requiring states to make alternatives acceptable for the November 2016 election cycle.[30][31][32] The Brennan Center research has also indicated that instances of voter fraud by citizens and non-citizens are very rare.[33]

In 2023, the Brennan Center surveyed election administrators, finding many plan on retiring before the 2024 presidential election.[34]

The Brennan Center filed a friend of the court briefing in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Moore v. Harper. In oral arguments on December 7, 2022, the Brennan Center urged the United States Supreme Court to allow the North Carolina Supreme Court to strike down the state legislature’s congressional map for violating the North Carolina Constitution.[1][35]

The Brennan Center for Justice is a partner organization of VoteRiders.[36]


As of the Brennan Center's 2021 annual report, the organization has received funding from:[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "IRS Form 990 2017" (PDF). Internal Revenue Service. June 30, 2017. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  2. ^ Katz, Lee Michael (Summer 2008). "The Brennan Center for Justice: A Bipartisan Champion of Democracy Comes of Age" (PDF). Carnegie Results. Carnegie Corporation of New York. pp. 1–16. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-01-24. Retrieved July 29, 2022.
  3. ^ Montopoli, Brian (October 3, 2011). "2012 election: Disenfranchised voters, hacked machines?". CBS News. Archived from the original on August 25, 2016. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  4. ^ Shelton, Shania (June 14, 2023). "At least 11 states have enacted restrictive voting laws this year, new report finds". CNN. Archived from the original on August 18, 2023. Retrieved August 18, 2023.
  5. ^ "Brennan Center for Justice". CREDO Donations. Archived from the original on March 29, 2019. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  6. ^ Lingeman, Richard (2008). The Nation Guide to the Nation. Vintage Books. p. 243. ISBN 9780307387288.
  7. ^ Filipovic, Jill (April 5, 2014). "Time for public financing of elections". Al Jazeera America. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  8. ^ Barrett, Paul (January 14, 2015). "Five Ways the Supreme Court Transformed Campaign Finance". Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  9. ^ Rose Quandt, Katie (January 21, 2015). "How Is 'Citizens United' Ruining Democracy and How Can We Stop It?". Moyers & Company. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  10. ^ "Our Mission". Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  11. ^ "Justice Brennan, Voice of Court's Social Revolution, Dies". Washington Post. July 25, 1997. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  12. ^ "Brennan Center Follows Own Path," Courtside Legal Times, March 25, 1996
  13. ^ a b c "The Brennan Center for Justice: A Bipartisan Champion of Democracy Comes of Age" (PDF). Summer 2008. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
  14. ^ Von Spakovsky, Hans (October 13, 2011). "New Myths on Voter ID". National Review. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  15. ^ Cohn, Nate (November 26, 2014). "Studies Back Up That Few Elections Are Swung by Voter ID Laws". New York Times. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  16. ^ "Programs". Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  17. ^ Schell, Scott (August 27, 2003). "The Brennan Center for Justice: Carrying on the Fight." Archived 2011-09-26 at the Wayback Machine NYC Pro Bono Center News. Retrieved 2011-05-17.
  18. ^ Davis, Kristina (February 14, 2015). "Study: Incarceration not behind crime drop". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  19. ^ Sneed, Tierney (February 12, 2015). "Mass Incarceration Didn't Lower Crime, But Can Congress Be Convinced?". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  20. ^ "Crime and despair in Baltimore". The Economist. 29 June 2017. Retrieved 2017-08-01.
  21. ^ Nazaryan, Alexander (January 23, 2015). "To Live and Die in Gitmo". Newsweek. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  22. ^ "Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri". Brennan Center. February 28, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2022.
  23. ^ "Durbin, Larson Introduce Fair Elections Now Act, Durbin Announces Hearing on Campaign Finance Reform" (April 6, 2011). Press Release, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.
  24. ^ Lucas, David (May 19, 2011). "Civil Rights Organizations File Motion to Defend Law Ending Prison-Based Gerrymandering", WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
  25. ^ Brodey, Sam (April 14, 2015). "40,000 Maryland Ex-Cons May Soon Get Their Voting Rights Back". Mother Jones. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  26. ^ Scalia, Antonin & al. (January 16, 2008). "New York State Board of Elections, petitioners, v, Margarita Lopez Torres et al" (PDF). Supreme Court of the United States. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  27. ^ Hoy, Seth (March 3, 2015). "BRIEF: Ethicists Urge Wisconsin Justices to Consider Recusal in Gov. Scott Walker Campaign Finance Case". Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  28. ^ Stein, Jason (March 20, 2015). "Prosecutor alerts justices to secrecy violation in John Doe". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  29. ^ Gass, Henry (July 16, 2015). "Boost for Scott Walker as campaign finance probe ends". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  30. ^ Rober Barnes (August 1, 2016). "Federal judge blocks N. Dakota's voter-ID law, calling it unfair to Native Americans". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  31. ^ Ariane de Vogue, "Voting challenges head toward the Supreme Court: 4 cases to watch", CNN, 19 July 2016; accessed 30 July 2016
  32. ^ "Voter ID Laws Take a Beating in U.S. Courts", New York Times, 30 July 2016, p. 1
  33. ^ "The voter-fraud commission relies on some really dodgy studies". The Economist. 20 July 2017. Retrieved 2017-08-01.
  34. ^ "Massive turnover in local election officials likely before 2024, says new survey". NBC News. Retrieved 2023-04-27.
  35. ^ "Analysis | What you need to know about the big Supreme Court election case". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2023-01-05.
  36. ^ "Partner Organizations • VoteRiders". VoteRiders. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  37. ^ Atkins, Robert; Bauman, Patricia. "Democracy Can't Wait: Annual Report 2021" (PDF). Brennan Center for Justice. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2023-01-02. Retrieved 2023-01-02.

External links[edit]