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]


  • 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.)








  • 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.
  • 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[9]
  • 2009: Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, the Supreme Court ruled the Voting Rights Act Section 5 preclearance process constitutional.[10]
  • 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]
  • 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.[13]
  • 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]