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Vigilance in the Defense of Liberty and Freedom
Director of the Political Participation Group
Ryan P. Haygood is the Director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.’s (LDF) Political Participation Group, which promotes the full, equal, and active participation of Black people in the democratic process through legal, legislative, public education, and other advocacy tools.
At LDF, Ryan represents Black and other people of color in a variety of actions involving voting discrimination, including challenges to discriminatory voting measures under Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the United States Constitution, and state laws. Ryan successfully represented Black voters in the following recent high-profile Section 5 actions:
- Florida v. Holder, in which a three-judge federal court rejected Florida’s attempt to drastically reduce the early voting period, an important channel through which Blacks voted in record numbers in the 2008 Presidential election;
- Texas v. Holder, in which a three-judge federal court blocked Texas’s recent attempt to implement a discriminatory government-issued photo identification measure; and
- South Carolina v. Holder, in which a three-judge federal court rejected South Carolina’s request to implement its discriminatory photo identification law for the 2012 Presidential election.
Ryan also was a key member of LDF’s litigation team in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. One v. Holder (MUD), which successfully defended against a constitutional challenge to Section 5 before the United States Supreme Court in 2009. Additionally, during the 2006 Congressional reauthorization of Section 5, Ryan coordinated LDF’s legislative strategy, its contributions to building the Congressional record, and the organization’s public education efforts in numerous community, academic and media settings.
Ryan is currently on LDF’s Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder litigation team, a successor case to MUD, where he is again defending against a constitutional challenge to Section 5 before the United States Supreme Court. Ryan and LDF’s team successfully defended Section 5 in the federal district and circuit court litigation in this case.
In addition to his robust Section 5 litigation practice, Ryan has frequently represented Black voters in actions challenging discriminatory voting practices under Section 2 of the VRA. Ryan currently represents Black voters in a challenge to Fayette County, Georgia’s at-large method of electing members to the County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education in Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, et al., v. Fayette County Board of Commissioners. In that case, LDF challenges the use of at-large voting on the ground that this method, in combination with racially polarized voting, prevents Black voters from electing a candidate of their choice to either board.
Ryan also represented Black voters in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana in Williams v. McKeithen, a Section 2 challenge to the Parish’s at-large method of electing judges to the state court of appeals. In response to the Williams litigation, Louisiana created a new district that provided that Parish’s Black community, for the first time in history, with an opportunity to elect a candidate of its choice.
Ryan has also litigated several challenges to discriminatory state laws that disproportionately deny voting rights to people of color with felony convictions. In one of those cases, Farrakhan v. Gregoire, Ryan successfully argued before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that Washington’s felon disfranchisement law violates the Voting Rights Act.
In the first ruling of its kind, the Ninth Circuit struck down Washington’s law, finding that it shifted racial discrimination from the criminal justice system into the political process, and consequently denied voters of color an equal opportunity to participate in the State’s political process. Ryan subsequently argued the case before an 11-member en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit, which ultimately reversed the historic ruling. Ryan also litigated Little v. LATFOR, a case that ensured that that incarcerated people of color in New York State are properly counted in their home communities during the redistricting process, rather than in the prison communities where they are incarcerated.
Ryan also oversees LDF’s efforts to ensure state compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to provide voter registration services to impoverished constituents at state public assistance agencies. In Scott v. Schedler, Ryan and his team are currently challenging Louisiana’s failure to provide legally required voter registration services to its most vulnerable residents.
During the 2008 presidential election, Ryan litigated two successful pre-Election Day challenges, including a case in Alabama that allowed a prison-based voter registration drive to continue; and a case in Indiana that invalidated a coordinated attempt to declare residents ineligible to vote due to home foreclosure. These cases were part of LDF’s Prepared to Vote campaign through which thousands of voters are empowered with information critical to ensuring that they are able to cast a ballot that is counted on Election Day.
Ryan speaks frequently, has been interviewed by many media outlets, including MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, MSNBC's Politics Nation with Reverend Al Sharpton, MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes, MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show , CNN Newsroom with Suzanne Malveaux, MSNBC Live with Richard Lui , CBS, Fox News, National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation, Associated Press, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, and Thomson Reuters, has offered testimony, and writes regularly on issues concerning race, law, and democracy in various publications, including:
- The Past as Prologue: Defending Democracy Against Voter Suppression Tactics on the Eve of the 2012 Elections, 64 Rutgers L. Rev. 1019 (2012)
- Disregarding the Results: Examining the Ninth Circuit’s Heightened Section 2 “Intentional Discrimination” Standard in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, 111 Colum. L. Rev. Sidebar 51 (2011)
- The Dim Side of the Bright Line: Minority Voting Opportunity After Bartlett v. Strickland, 45 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. (2010)
In 2012, LDF authored a leading report, Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, which explores the contemporary assault on voting rights across the nation. Ryan brought international attention to this important issue when he testified at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in 2012.
Prior to joining LDF, Ryan was a litigation associate in the New York office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP, and was a recipient of the LDF/Fried Frank Fellowship. At Fried, Frank, Ryan represented clients in a variety of complex commercial and civil rights matters before federal courts.
Ryan received his J.D. from the University of Colorado School of Law and a B.A. in American History and Political Science cum laude from Colorado College, where he was nominated for the Rhodes Scholarship and earned academic and athletic All-American honors as a football player.