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Janai Nelson Named Associate Director-Counsel at NAACP Legal Defense Fund

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6/04/14

Janai Nelson

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. today announced that Janai Nelson, a law professor and expert on election law and voting rights issues, has been named Associate Director-Counsel of the organization.

Ms. Nelson’s appointment marks a return to LDF, where she began as an NAACP LDF/Fried Frank Fellow in 1998, joined the staff as an assistant counsel in 2002, and served as director of LDF’s Political Participation Group from 2003 to 2005.

“We are thrilled to welcome Janai Nelson back to the LDF family in a new role that will take full advantage not only of her deep knowledge of voting rights and constitutional law but also her skills as an advocate and leader,” said Sherrilyn A. Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of NAACP LDF.  “I know that Janai will be a tremendous asset to LDF in continuing our precedent-setting legal and legislative advocacy as well as in advancing new strategic initiatives.”

Ms. Nelson will come on board full-time on August 13 and will work from the organization's headquarters in lower Manhattan.

“It is truly a privilege to return to LDF to build on its legacy of excellence and help to advance its critical mission of racial justice, equality, and human rights,” said Ms. Nelson.  “For nearly 75 years, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has been at the heart of the struggle to transform society and reinforce our democratic ideals.  I look forward to working hand-in-hand with LDF’s talented attorneys, dedicated staff, and valued partners to continue that journey of progress.”

Ms. Nelson comes to NAACP LDF from St. John’s University School of Law, where for the past eight years she has been a law professor, Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship, and Associate Director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development.  She is recipient of the 2013 Derrick A. Bell Award from the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) Section on Minority Groups and was recently named one of Lawyers of Color’s 50 Under 50 minority professors making an impact in legal education. 

In the year prior to joining St. John's faculty, Ms. Nelson was a Fulbright Scholar at the Legal Resources Center in Accra, Ghana, where she researched the political disfranchisement of persons with criminal convictions and the advancement of democracy in Ghana.

In her previous role as Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group, Nelson oversaw all voting related litigation and matters, litigated voting rights and redistricting cases, and worked on criminal justice issues on behalf of African Americans and other under-served communities.  She served as lead counsel in Hayden v. Pataki, a felon disfranchisement case that challenged New York State laws that deny the right to vote to people who are incarcerated and on parole for a felony conviction.  She was also part of the team of civil rights attorneys representing African- and Haitian-American voters in NAACP v. Hood (a class action suit that arose out of the 2000 general elections) and one of the counsel representing a death row inmate whose sentence was commuted in 2003 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Banks v. Dretke.

She has been published on issues of domestic and comparative election law, democracy, race, and criminal justice and is a contributor to Thomson Reuters and Huffington Post.  Ms. Nelson has also appeared on CNN, InsideOut, public radio and other media as an election law expert; she regularly speaks at conferences and symposia nationwide.

Ms. Nelson received a B.A. from New York University and a J.D. from UCLA School of Law.  She is a native New Yorker who lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, 8 and 10.