NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

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Logo of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

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

The organization can trace its origins to the legal department of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that was created by Charles Hamilton Houston in the 1930s.[1][2] However, in 1940, Thurgood Marshall established LDF as a separate legal entity and, in 1957, the organization became totally independent of the NAACP.[3]

John Payton served as LDF's 6th director-counsel and president from 2008 until his death in March, 2012.[4] Sherrilyn Ifill was named the new president and director-counsel of LDF in November 2012.[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."[3]

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.[3]

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, intimidated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service, 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.[2][7]

At times, this separation has created considerable confusion in the eyes and minds of the public.[7] Indeed, in the 1980s, the NAACP unsuccessfully sued LDF for trademark infringement.[2]

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.[3]


  • 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.)


  • 1940: Chambers v. Florida, overturned the convictions — based on coerced confessions — of four young black defendants accused of murdering an elderly white man.


  • 1950: McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, ruled against practices of segregation within a formerly all-white graduate school insofar as they interfered with meaningful classroom instruction and interaction with other students.
  • 1950: Sweatt v. Painter, ruled against a Texas attempt to circumvent Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada with a hastily established inferior law school for black students.
  • 1953: Barrows v. Jackson, reaffirmed Shelley v. Kraemer, preventing state courts from enforcing restrictive covenants.


  • 1965: Williams v. Wallace, made court order to allow a voting-rights march in Alabama, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which had previously been stopped twice by state police.
  • 1967: Quarles v. Philip Morris, overturned the practice of "departmental seniority", which had forced non-white workers to give up their seniority rights when they transferred to better jobs in previously white-only departments.


  • 1971: Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, upheld intra-district busing to desegregate public schools. However, this issue was contested in the courts for three more decades. In the most recent as of 2004 related cases, the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2002 refused to review Cappachione v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education and Belk v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, in which lower courts had ruled in favor of the school district.
  • 1971: Clay v. United States, struck down Muhammad Ali's conviction for refusing to report for military service.
  • 1971: Griggs v. Duke Power Company, ruled that tests for employment or promotion that produce different outcomes for blacks and whites are prima facie to be presumed discriminatory, and must measure aptitude for the job in question or they cannot be used.[2]
  • 1971: Phillips v. Martin Marietta, ruled that employers may not refuse to hire women with pre-school-aged children unless the same standards are applied to men.
  • 1972: Furman v. Georgia, ruled that the death penalty as then applied in 37 states violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment because there were inadequate standards to guide judges and juries making the decision which defendants will receive a sentence of death. However, under revised laws, U.S. executions resumed in 1977.
  • 1973: Norwood v. Harrison banned government provision of school books to segregated private schools established to allow whites to avoid public school desegregation.
  • 1973: Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, addressed deliberate de facto school segregation, ruling that where deliberate segregation was shown to have affected a substantial part of a school system, the entire district must ordinarily be desegregated.
  • 1973: Adams v. Richardson, required federal education officials to enforce Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which requires that state universities, public schools, and other institutions that receive federal money may not discriminate by race.
  • 1973: McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, ruled that courts should hear cases of alleged unlawful discrimination based on the "minimal showing" that a qualified non-white applied unsuccessfully for a job that either remained open or was filled by a white person.
  • 1977: Coker v. Georgia, banned capital punishment for rape, the most racially disproportionate application of the death penalty.


  • 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.
  • 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.


  • 1995: McKennon v. Nashville Banner: The Supreme Court refused to allow employers to defeat otherwise valid claims of job discrimination by relying on facts they did not know until after the discriminatory decision had been made.
  • 1996: Sheff v. O'Neill: The Supreme Court of Connecticut, in view of the disparities between Hartford public schools and schools in the surrounding counties, found the state liable for maintaining racial and ethnic isolation, and ordered the legislative and executive branches to propose a remedy.
  • 1997: Robinson v. Shell Oil Company, determined that a former employee may sue his ex-employer for retaliating against him (by giving a bad job reference) after he filed discrimination charges over his termination.


  • 2000: Rideau v. Louisiana, 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 24½ 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.
  • 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.[11]


  • 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 in the Supreme Court. [12]
  • 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.[14]

Prominent LDF attorneys[edit]

A number of prominent attorneys have been affiliated with LDF over the years, including Barack Obama who was an LDF cooperating attorney.[3] 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. ^ "LDF@70: 70 Years of Fulfilling the Promise of Equality" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-11-19. 
  2. ^ a b c "NAACP v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., 753 F.2d 131 (D.C. Circuit 1985)". Retrieved 2010-11-19.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "NAACPvLDF" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "NAACPvLDF" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  3. ^ a b c d e NAACP Legal Defense Fund - History
  4. ^ NAACP Legal Defense Fund - John Payton Bio
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ a b "Biographies: NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Teaching Judicial History,".
  7. ^ a b Hooks (1979)
  8. ^ Tarter, Brent. "Aline Elizabeth Black (1906–1974)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  9. ^, 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.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ "U.S. Senate Confirms EEOC Chair, Two Commissioners and General Counsel," EEOC Press Release, December 23, 2010
  16. ^ Robert L. Carter
  17. ^ Mississippi Freedom Summer
  18. ^ 'Eric Holder In Profile,' Washington Post, November 18, 2008
  19. ^ 1997-Elaine Jones
  20. ^ 'Pamela S. Karlan - Profile,' New York Times, Updated May 26, 2009
  21. ^ 'David E. Kendall Bio,' Williams & Connolly
  22. ^ Asian-American Is Named To Top Civil Rights Position - New York Times
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Columbia Law School : Full Time Faculty : Theodore M. Shaw". 1961-11-09. Retrieved 2010-12-09. 
  28. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • 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
  • 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

External links[edit]