The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the country’s first and foremost civil and human rights law organization. Founded in 1940 under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall, who subsequently became the first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice, LDF was launched at a time when the nation’s aspirations for equality and due process of law were stifled by widespread state-sponsored racial inequality. From that era to the present, LDF’s mission has been transformative—to achieve racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society.

LDF seeks an experienced, creative and highly motivated attorney for the John Payton Appellate and Supreme Court Advocacy Fellowship to serve in the D.C. or New York office, with a preference for fellow to serve in the D.C. office.

John Payton:

John Payton was the sixth President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the nation’s preeminent civil rights and racial justice law firm. A brilliant litigator, John dedicated his life to justice, equality, and opportunity. He passed away unexpectedly on March 22, 2012 after a brief illness. Upon his passing, President Barack Obama remembered John as a “legend” and “a true champion of equality,” whose “courage and fierce opposition to discrimination in all its forms” would never be forgotten.

John was one of the finest lawyers in the country. In 2010 alone, the National Law Journal declared him one of “The Decade’s Most Influential Lawyers,” and the Washington (D.C.) Bar Association awarded him the Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit. John was universally recognized and admired for his inimitable approach to advocacy; razor sharp intellect; commitment to rigor tempered by the ability to reflect and recalibrate; passion for history; deep curiosity; ability to see around corners; and characteristic confidence and optimism.

John demonstrated his signature brilliance when he served as lead counsel for the University of Michigan in defending its affirmative action policy in Gratz v. Bollinger. John handled this extraordinarily important and high-profile case in the trial court, court of appeals, and in his argument before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court’s decision in the landmark companion case, Grutter v. Bollinger, upholding race-conscious admissions in higher education, represented the vindication of the strategy that John devised and implemented over more than six years litigating Gratz to support the educational benefits of diversity. During his tenure at LDF, John similarly guided the organization to resounding legal victories, including a Supreme Court victory in Lewis v. City of Chicago, which vindicated the rights of over 6,000 applicants who sought to become firefighters in Chicago.

Although John spent his career seeking out and litigating some of the most important and difficult civil rights cases and issues, he maintained an infectious optimism and confidence that made good things not simply possible, but probable. As LDF’s leader, John reset the odds in the fight for equality. He turned the highest stakes cases—those that were declared “unwinnable” by other experts—into victories.

LDF honors John through the John Payton Fellowship by advancing the painstaking work of our democracy’s founding promise to forge “a more perfect union.”

John Payton Fellowship:

The John Payton Fellowship offers attorneys an unparalleled opportunity to engage in civil rights litigation and advocacy with the nation’s leading civil rights and racial justice law firm. The John Payton Fellowship provides a mid-level lawyer with the opportunity to work as a staff attorney with LDF. The ideal candidate for the Fellowship has two to three years of litigation experience, along with a deep and abiding commitment to John’s passion: fighting for racial justice. The fellowship is for one year, potentially subject to renewal for an additional year.

Responsibilities may include:

  • Litigating the full range of racial justice issues, including: educational opportunity, diversity, adequacy, access and retention; employment and housing discrimination; voting rights; and criminal justice, with a particular focus on appellate and Supreme Court litigation;
  • Drafting, and assisting in the drafting of, petitions for certiorari, merits briefs and amicus briefs in the United States Supreme Court, other federal courts, and state courts;
  • Participating in motion practice in federal district court;
  • Planning and participating in moots for oral arguments;
  • Assisting in the management and strategic development of LDF’s appellate and Supreme Court docket with respect to both amicus and merits briefs;
  • Updating the President and Director-Counsel, Associate Director-Counsel, Director of Litigation, and legal staff on significant developments in the Supreme Court and other federal courts;
  • Collaborating with LDF’s Communications Departments to ensure effective promotion of cases/matters, and coordinating advocacy tactics to compliment the litigation strategy;
  • Consulting and advising on complex civil rights impact cases in federal and state courts and before administrative bodies;
  • Representing LDF in the media, at conferences and in other public venues;
  • Developing and maintaining relationships with community partners, coalition members, and legal allies, including other civil rights organizations;
  • Preparing policy reports, memoranda, briefing papers, public education materials, and talking points for internal and external use;
  • Travel as necessary;
  • Other responsibilities as assigned.


The ideal candidate will:

  • Possess a J.D degree and be admitted or eligible to waive into the New York or D.C. Bar;
  • Have at least 2-3 years of litigation experience, including appellate litigation experience;
  • Have shown a demonstrated commitment to racial justice and civil rights advocacy;
  • Be a strategic thinker;
  • Have judicial clerkship experience;
  • Be an excellent brief writer with exceptional analytical, writing, and speaking skills.

This is not an exhaustive list of all responsibilities, duties, skills, efforts or requirements or working conditions associated with the job. While this is intended to be an accurate reflection of the current job, management reserves the right to revise the job or to require that other or different tasks be performed as assigned. This description does not constitute a contract of employment and LDF may exercise its employment-at-will rights at any time.