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NAACP Legal Defense Fund

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (NAACP LDF, the Inc. Fund, or simply 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, LDF was spun off from the NAACP in 1939, and, in 1957, Thurgood Marshall established LDF as a new organization, 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

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

Areas of concern


Creation and separation from the NAACP

The board of directors of the NAACP created the Legal Defense Fund in 1939 specifically for tax purposes. In 1957, intimidated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service, the NAACP spun off the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. as a new legal entity with its own 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

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: Abbington v Board of Education of Louisville (KY), a suit argued by Thurgood Marshall and dropped though the settlement led to the removal of a 15 percent salary discrepancy between black and white teachers in the Louisville, Kentucky public schools (see NAACP in Kentucky)
  • 1940: Alston v. School Board of City of Norfolk, a federal court order that African-American public school teachers be paid salaries equal to whites, regardless of race.
  • 1940: Chambers v. Florida, overturned the convictions — based on coerced confessions — of four young black defendants accused of murdering an elderly white man.
  • 1946: Morgan v. Virginia, desegregated seating on interstate buses.
  • 1947: Patton v. Mississippi, ruled against strategies that excluded African Americans from criminal juries.


  • 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.
  • 1957: Fikes v. Alabama, a further ruling against forced confessions.


  • 1963: Watson v. City of Memphis, ruled segregation of public parks unconstitutional.
  • 1963: Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, ended segregation of hospitals that received Federal construction funds.
  • 1964: Willis v. Pickrick Restaurant, ruled against segregation in public facilities such as restaurants; Lester Maddox closed his restaurant rather than integrate.
  • 1964: James A. Crumlin, Sr.) - details in NAACP in Kentucky.
  • 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.
  • 1965: Hamm v. City of Rock Hill, overturned all convictions of demonstrators' participating in civil rights sit-ins.
  • 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.
  • 1969: Allen v. State Board of Elections, guaranteed the right to a write-in vote.


  • 1970: Ali v. The Division of State Athletic Commission, restored Muhammad Ali's boxing license.
  • 1970: Carter v. Jury Commission, approved Federal suits over discrimination in the selection of juries.
  • 1971: Kennedy-Park Homes Association v. City of Lackawanna, forbade a city government from interfering in the construction of low-income housing in a predominantly white section of the city.
  • 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: Haines v. Kerner, upheld the right of prisoners to challenge prison conditions in federal court.
  • 1971: Groppi v. Wisconsin, upheld the right of a criminal defendant in a misdemeanor case to a venue where jurors are not biased against him.
  • 1971: Clay v. United States, struck down Muhammad Ali's conviction for refusing to report for military service.
  • 1971: [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.
  • 1972: Wright v. Council of the City of Emporia and U.S. v. Scotland Neck City Board of Education, ruled against systems' avoiding public school desegregation by the creation of all-white "splinter districts".
  • 1972: Alexander v. Louisiana, accepted the use of statistical evidence to prove racial discrimination in the selection of juries.
  • 1972: Hawkins v. Town of Shaw, banned discrimination in the provision of municipal facilities.
  • 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: Ham v. South Carolina, ruled that defendants are entitled to have potential jurors interrogated about whether they harbor racial prejudices.
  • 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.
  • 1973: Mourning v. Family Publication Service, upheld the Truth in lending Act, requiring disclosure of the actual cost of a loan.
  • 1975: Albemarle v. Moody, mandated back pay for victims of job discrimination.
  • 1975: Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, upheld the Civil Rights Act of 1866, passed during Reconstruction, as providing an independent remedy for employment discrimination.
  • 1977: Coker v. Georgia, banned capital punishment for rape, the most racially disproportionate application of the death penalty.
  • 1977: United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburgh v. Carey, provided that states may consider race in drawing electoral districts if necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act by avoiding a dilution of minority voting strength.


  • 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.
  • 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), ruled that at-large countywide election of state legislators illegally diluted black voting strength.
  • 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.


  • 1991: Chisom v. Roemer and Houston Lawyers Association v. Attorney General, established that Voting Rights Act applies to the election of judges.
  • 1992: Matthews v. Coye and Thompson v. Raiford, compelled California and Texas, respectively, to enforce and implement federal regulations calling for testing of poor children for lead poisoning.
  • 1993: Haynes v. Shoney's: A record court-approved settlement in an employment discrimination case. Shoney's Restaurants agreed to pay African-American employees $105 million and to implement aggressive equal employment opportunity measures.
  • 1994: Lawson v. City of Los Angeles and Silva v. City of Los Angeles, led to settlements to end discriminatory use of police dogs in minority neighborhoods.
  • 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.
  • 1998: Wright v. Universal Maritime Service Corp., determined that a general arbitration clause in a collective bargaining agreement did not deprive an employee of his right to enforce federal anti-discrimination laws in federal court.


  • 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. (As of 2004 he is still facing a fourth trial).
  • 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.[10]

Prominent LDF Attorneys

A number of preeminent attorneys have been affiliated with LDF over the years, including President 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.


Further reading

  • 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

  • NAACP-LDF Official Website,
  • The Defenders Online, LDF's official online blog,
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