NAACP Legal Defense Fund : Defend, Educate, Empower

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"The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is simply the best civil rights law firm in American history." -- President Obama

LDF at 75: LDF Timeline and Cases

LDF at 75

Pre-1940s
Charles Hamilton Houston trains a small army of black attorneys at Howard University Law School who are committed to challenging the legal bulwarks of segregation.  His groundwork leads to LDF’s founding. LDF is set up as a legal unit of the NAACP in 1939. 

1940
LDF is founded by Thurgood Marshall, its first Director-Counsel.

1940
Chambers v. Florida
Supreme Court overturns the convictions—based on coerced confessions—of four young black defendants accused of murdering an elderly white man

1940
Alston v. School Board of City of Norfolk
Federal Appellate court orders equal pay for African-American and white public school teachers.

1944
Smith v. Allwright
Supreme Court rules that the exclusion of African Americans from voting in Texas primary elections violates the Fifteenth Amendment.

1946
Morgan v. Virginia
Supreme Court strikes down a Virginia law requiring segregated seating on interstate buses. The ruling prompts the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to initiate the first Freedom Rides in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee to test this new ruling.

1947
Patton v. Mississippi
Supreme Court reverses a murder conviction obtained through a jury selection process that had systematically excluded African Americans from criminal juries for 30 years.

­1948
Shelly v. Kraemer
Supreme Court prohibits state courts from enforcing racially restrictive housing covenants

1948
Sipuel v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Oklahoma
Supreme Court rules that a state cannot bar a black student from its all-white law school on the ground that she had not requested the state to provide a separate law school for black students.

1950
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents
Supreme Court rules that an African-American student admitted to a formerly all-white graduate school can not be subjected to segregation practices that interfere with meaningful classroom instruction and interaction with other students.

1950
Sweatt v. Painter
Supreme Court rules that a separate law school, hastily established for black students to prevent their admission to the all-white University of Texas Law School, is unequal, and therefore unconstitutional. 

1954
Brown v. Board of Education
Supreme Court, in four consolidated cases, unanimously strikes down public school segregation, overruling the long-standing “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

1955
Lucy v. Adams
Federal district court bars the University of Alabama from denying admission based on race, and the Supreme Court quickly affirms that decision. 

1956
Gayle v. Browder
Supreme Court declares segregated seating on city buses unconstitutional, thereby ending the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. 

1957
Fikes v. Alabama
Supreme Court holds that a confession used to convict an African-American defendant was obtained in violation of the Constitution.

1960
Boynton v. Virginia
Supreme Court rules that the Interstate Commerce Act prohibits racial discrimination in bus terminal restaurants. The ruling prompts a subsequent round of Freedom Rides by CORE and SNCC into the Deep South.

1961
Jack Greenberg becomes Director-Counsel and will win most of the 40 cases he argues before the Supreme Court.

1961
Holmes v. Danner
Federal district court orders desegregation at the University of Georgia, requiring the admission of two African Americans, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes.

1962
Meredith v. Fair
Under federal court order, James Meredith finally succeeds in becoming the first African-American student admitted to the University of Mississippi.

1963
Lucy v. Adams
Federal court orders Alabama officials to comply with a 1955 decree requiring desegregation of the University of Alabama. After Governor George Wallace tries to prevent desegregation, President Kennedy mobilized the National Guard and federal marshals to ensure compliance.

1963
State of Alabama v. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Supreme Court upholds Dr. King’s contempt conviction for marching in Birmingham, Alabama without a permit. 

1963
Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital
Federal appeals court rules that federal law prohibits hospitals receiving federal funds from discriminating in the admission of patients or in granting staff privileges to doctors.

1964
Marian Wright Edelman organizes LDF’s Jackson, Mississippi office, where she handles more than 120 cases generated during Freedom Summer.

1964
McLaughlin v. Florida
Supreme Court strikes down as unconstitutional a Florida statute criminalizing interracial cohabitation.

 1964
Hamm v. City of Rock Hill
Supreme Court holds that the 1964 Civil Rights Act voids convictions of all lunch counter sit-in demonstrators.

1964
Willis v. Pickrick Restaurant
Three-judge federal district court holds that the 1964 Civil Rights Act requires Lester Maddox, owner of an Atlanta restaurant and future Georgia governor, to serve African-American customers; Maddox opts to close his restaurant rather than integrate.

1965
Abernathy v. Alabama; Thomas v. Mississippi
Supreme Court uses the 1964 Civil Rights Act to reverse state convictions of Deep South Freedom Riders who were testing the efficacy of court rulings issued well before the Civil Rights Act was passed.

1965
Williams v. Wallace
Federal court order allows Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead thousands in a five-day voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, after prior attempts had resulted in the “Bloody Sunday” police riot on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

1965
James Nabrit III, with other LDF attorneys and civil rights leaders, draws up the historic march route from Selma to Montgomery.

1967
Cypress v. Newport News General and Nonsectarian Hospital Association

Federal appellate court rules that a federally-funded hospital violates federal law by denying staff privileges to African-American physicians.

1967
LDF establishes National Rights of the Indigent to litigate on behalf of the poor.

1968
Green v. County School Board of New Kent County
Supreme Court holds that “freedom of choice” plans are an insufficient response to court-ordered public school desegregation.

1968
Quarles v. Philip Morris
Federal district court prohibits an employer’s practice of relying solely on departmental rather than plant-wide seniority, a practice which forced long-time black workers to give up their seniority rights when they transferred to better jobs in previously white-only departments.

1968
Davis v. Francois
Federal appellate court holds that Port Allen, Louisiana’s expansive anti-picketing ordinance, enforced against civil rights protesters, violated the Constitution.

1968
Newman v. Piggie Park
Supreme Court recognizes that civil rights plaintiffs act as “private attorneys general” and, when they prevail, are entitled to attorneys’ fees, as in this case which barred discrimination against African-American customers at a South Carolina restaurant chain.

1968
LDF provides legal support for the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C.

1969
Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education
Supreme Court rules that a Mississippi school district’s foot-dragging on desegregation violates Brown’s mandate.

1969
Thorpe v. Housing Authority of City of Durham
Supreme Court rules that public housing tenants cannot be evicted without prior notice under procedures required by federal regulatory guidance.

1969
Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp.
Supreme Court rules that state laws allowing garnishment of wages without notice or a hearing violate constitutional due process. 

1969
Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham
Supreme Court invalidates Birmingham’s parade permit law, posthumously vindicating Rev. King’s 1963 Birmingham civil rights march in the year following his assassination in Memphis.

1969
Allen v. State Board of Elections
Supreme Court holds that the 1965 Voting Rights Act guarantees the opportunity to cast a write-in ballot.

1970
Carter v. Jury Commission
Supreme Court approves affirmative suits by African-American citizens challenging their exclusion from the jury selection process, thereby allowing a powerful new tool to end this long-standing discriminatory practice.

1970
Turner v. Fouche
Supreme Court invalidates a racially exclusionary process for selecting grand juries and school board members in Taliaferro County, Georgia.

1970
Ali v. Division of State Athletic Commission
Federal district court holds that New York violated Muhammad Ali’s constitutional rights when it discriminatorily stripped him of his boxing license after his conviction for refusing drafted military service.

1971
Groppi v. Wisconsin
Supreme Court rules that a criminal defendant in a misdemeanor case has the right to move a trial to another venue where jurors are not biased against him.

1971
Clay v. United States
Supreme Court strikes down Muhammad Ali’s conviction for refusing to report for drafted military service.

1971
Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education
Supreme Court upholds the use of busing as a tool to desegregate public schools.

1971
Griggs v. Duke Power Company
Supreme Court rules that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination that result in different outcomes for blacks and whites.

1971
Phillips v. Martin Marietta
Supreme Court rules that, under Title VII, an employer must demonstrate that a refusal to hire women with preschool-aged children is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to its normal business operations.

1972
Hawkins v. Town of Shaw
Federal appellate court holds that a Mississippi town discriminated based on race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment by providing inferior services to black neighborhoods “on the other side of the tracks.”

1972
Haines v. Kerner
Supreme Court upholds the right of prisoners to bring federal court actions challenging prison conditions.

 

1972
Alexander v. Louisiana
Supreme Court approves the use of statistical evidence to prove racial discrimination in jury selection.

1972
Furman v. Georgia
Supreme Court rules that the death penalty, as applied in 37 states, violates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual” punishment because there are inadequate standards to guide judges and juries in determining which defendants should receive a death sentence. Under revised state laws, however, the Court permits U.S. executions to resume in 1977.

 

1972
Wright v. Council of the City of Emporia; U.S. v. Scotland Neck City Board of Education
Supreme Court refuses to allow public school systems to avoid desegregation by creating new, mostly white or all-white “splinter districts.”

1973
Ham v. South Carolina
Supreme Court rules that defendants are entitled to have potential jurors interrogated about whether they harbor racial prejudice.

1973
Norwood v. Harrison
Supreme Court rules that states cannot provide free textbooks to children attending private schools that were established to allow whites to avoid public school desegregation.

1973
Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver
Supreme Court holds, in its first case addressing school segregation outside of the South, that where deliberate segregation affects a substantial part of a school system, the entire district must ordinarily be desegregated.

1973
Adams v. Richardson
Federal appellate court requires federal education officials to enforce Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits universities, schools, and other institutions that receive federal funds from maintaining racial segregation.

1973
McDonnell Douglas v. Green
Supreme Court holds that, under Title VII, an African American complaining of unlawful discrimination is entitled to have his case heard in court if he can make the minimal showing that he was qualified for a job, applied for it, and was rejected but the job either remained open or was filled by a person of another race.

1973
Mourning v. Family Publication Service
Supreme Court upholds federal regulations under the Truth in Lending Act that require full disclosure to consumers of the actual cost of a loan or finance agreement.

1974
Bradley v. School Board of City of Richmond
Supreme Court ensures attorneys’ fees for students and parents in this protracted litigation to desegregate public schools in Richmond, Virginia.

1975
Albemarle v. Moody
Supreme Court rules that most victims of job discrimination are entitled to back pay relief under Title VII and set additional court standards for job-related employment testing.

1975
Johnson v. Railway Express Agency
Supreme Court reaffirms that the 1866 Civil Rights Act, passed during Reconstruction, provides an independent remedy for employment discrimination.

1977
Coker v. Georgia
Supreme Court holds that capital punishment for rape is unconstitutional.

1978
Hatcher v. Methodist Hospital
Federal district court ratifies a settlement blocking the use of federal funds to build a hospital in an all-white Indiana suburb to replace a facility in downtown Gary, because it would have deprived poor and minority city dwellers of access to adequate health care.

1980
Luevano v. Campbell
Federal district court approves a settlement ending the federal government’s use of a written test for entry-level hiring that disproportionately disqualified African-American and Latino applicants from employment opportunities.

1982
Enmund v. Florida
Supreme Court bans capital punishment for a defendant who participated in a robbery, during which, a murder was committed, because the defendant did not take or attempt to take a life, or intend that lethal force be employed.

1983
Major v. Treen
Federal district court finds that congressional districts in the New Orleans area had been gerrymandered to limit black voting strength following the 1980 census.

1983
Bob Jones University v. U.S.; Goldsboro Christian Schools v. U.S.
Supreme Court appoints then LDF Board Chair William T. Coleman, Jr. as a “friend of the court” and upheld his argument against granting tax exemptions to religious schools that discriminate.

1984
Julius L. Chambers named Director-Counsel of LDF

1986
Ford v. Wainwright
Supreme Court holds that the Eighth Amendment prohibits states from inflicting the penalty of death upon a prisoner who is insane.

1986
Thornburg v. Gingles
Supreme Court affirms that at-large election of state legislators in North Carolina illegally diluted black voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act, and it establishes basic principles for interpreting the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, which result in major increases in African-American elected officials nationwide.

1987
McCleskey v. Kemp
Supreme Court narrowly rejects a challenge to the constitutionality of Georgia’s death penalty, disregarding LDF’s compelling evidence that racial discrimination infects every aspect of the state’s capital punishment system.

1989
Lorance v. AT&T Technologies
Supreme Court holds that Title VII’s statute of limitations bars a challenge to a discriminatory seniority system.  This holding will be overturned by the 1991 Civil Rights Act.

1990
Missouri v. Jenkins
Supreme Court holds that federal courts can set aside state limitations on local taxing authority in order to ensure sufficient funds for Kansas City’s school desegregation plan.

1991
Chisom v. Roemer; Houston Lawyers Association v. Attorney General
Supreme Court holds that the Voting Rights Act applies to the election of judges.

1991
Board of Education v. Dowell
Limiting the scope of prior rulings, the Supreme Court holds that, in determining whether to dissolve a school desegregation decree, courts should consider whether school districts have complied in good faith and whether the vestiges of past discrimination have been eliminated to the extent practicable.

1991
Matthews v. Coye; Thompson v. Raiford
LDF attorneys compel California, Texas, and the federal government to enforce and implement federal regulations calling for testing of poor children for lead poisoning.

1993
Elaine R. Jones becomes President and Director-Counsel of LDF

1994
Lawson v. City of Los Angeles; Silva v. City of Los Angeles
Court approves settlements that lead to the end of the Los Angeles Police Department’s discriminatory use of police dogs in minority neighborhoods.

1994
Missouri v. Jenkins
Supreme Court holds that aspects of the remedy in a long-running desegregation case in Kansas City exceed the scope of the proved legal violation.

1996
Sheff v. O’Neill
Connecticut Supreme Court rules that the State of Connecticut is obligated to provide school children with an equal educational opportunity, finds the State liable for maintaining racial isolation in the Hartford area, and orders the legislative and executive branches to propose a remedy.

1996
Labor/Community Strategy Center v. MTA
Federal court approved a settlement of a class action on behalf of minority bus riders who challenged the discriminatory impact of Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposal to raise fares and eliminate monthly passes while pouring millions into construction of rail lines for white suburban commuters.

1999
Campaign to Save Our Public Hospitals v. Giuliani
New York Court of Appeals barred an attempt by New York City’s mayor to privatize public hospitals, and thereby cut hospital services for the poor.

2000
Smith v. United States
President Clinton commutes the sentence of Kemba Smith, a young African-American mother who received a mandatory minimum sentence of 24½ years in prison—even though she was a first-time offender—after her abusive boyfriend led her to play a peripheral role in a cocaine conspiracy.

2001
Easley  v. Cromartie
Supreme Court rules that the North Carolina majority-minority district from which Mel Watt was elected to Congress was not an illegal racial gerrymander.

2003
Gratz v. Bollinger; Grutter v. Bollinger
Supreme Court holds that narrowly-tailored, race-conscious university admissions policies are constitutional.

2004
Theodore M. Shaw becomes Director-Counsel of LDF.

2004

Banks v. Dretke
Supreme Court overturns the death sentence of Delma Banks, Jr. and remanded for reconsideration in light of the prosecution’s withholding of impeachment evidence related to two principal witnesses.

2005
Bad Times in Tulia, Texas
Monetary settlement is awarded after it was brought to light that nearly 10% of the African-American community of Tulia, Texas had been arrested in a drug “sting” operation based on unreliable testimony from a lone undercover agent with a checkered past.

2005

Rideau v. Louisiana
After 44 years of incarceration, a jury of ten women and two men (four of whom were black) finds Wilbert Rideau guilty of manslaughter and not murder, which permitted his immediate release based on the time he already had served.  This was Rideau’s fourth trial after three previous death sentences by all-white, all-male juries were overturned by federal courts.

2005
Gonzales v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores
Federal district court approves a consent decree requiring significant corporate reforms to promote workforce diversity, as well as more than $40 million in relief to rejected applicants and employees who alleged racial and gender discrimination.

2006
Geier v. Bredesen
District court grants the joint motion of LDF and the State of Tennessee to end nearly four decades of court-ordered desegregation of public colleges and universities in recognition of the state’s progress in creating a higher education system that preserves access and educational opportunity for black and white students alike.

2007
Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District
Supreme Court strikes down voluntary integration plans in Seattle, Washington and Jefferson County, Kentucky, but affirms the constitutionality of school district efforts to promote diversity and reduce racial isolation.

2008
Williams v. Allen
Federal appellate court vacates the death sentence of a 20-year Alabama death row inmate holding first, that he was entitled to present his claims that the prosecutor unconstitutionally struck blacks from the jury; and second, that his attorney failed to investigate mitigating evidence of the extreme abuse he suffered as a child.

2008
Wright v. Stern
Federal district court approves a class action settlement requiring injunctive relief and damages of more than $21 million due to systemic employment discrimination by the New York City Parks Department against its African-American and Latino employees.

2008
Herring v. Marion County Election Board
Settlement of a lawsuit filed in Indiana state court to ensure that eligible voters with property subject to foreclosure proceedings or evictions would not have their right to vote challenged during the 2008 election based upon their foreclosure status.

2009
Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder
Supreme Court declines a municipal utility district’s plea that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act should be struck down as no longer constitutionally necessary to safeguard minority voting rights.

2010
Lewis v. City of Chicago
Supreme Court rules unanimously that Chicago could be held accountable for each and every time it used a hiring practice that discriminatorily blocked qualified minority applicants from employment as firefighters. 

2010
Farrakkan v. Gregoire
Federal appellate court leaves in place the State of Washington’s felon disenfranchisement law, even though it results in the denial of the right to vote to Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans on a racially discriminatory basis.