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

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. 

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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. 

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).

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. 

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.”

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


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

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.


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.”

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Julius L. Chambers named Director-Counsel of LDF

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Theodore M. Shaw becomes Director-Counsel of LDF.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.