The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) is the country’s first and foremost civil and human rights law firm. Founded in 1940 under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall, who subsequently became the first African-American 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 always been transformative: to achieve racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society.
As the legal arm of the civil rights movement, LDF has a tradition of expert legal advocacy in the Supreme Court and other courts across the nation. LDF’s victories established the foundations for the civil rights that all Americans enjoy today. In its first two decades, LDF undertook a coordinated legal assault against officially enforced public school segregation. This campaign culminated in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 that has been described as “the most important American governmental act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.” The Court’s unanimous decision overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine of legally sanctioned discrimination, widely known as Jim Crow.
In the face of fierce and often violent “massive resistance” to public school desegregation, LDF was forced to sue hundreds of school districts across the country to vindicate Brown’s promise. It was not until LDF’s subsequent victories in cases such as Cooper v. Aaron (1958)2, Green v. County School Board (1968)3, and Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971)4, that the Supreme Court issued mandates that ultimately required all vestiges of desegregation to be eliminated “root and branch.”
In more recent decades, LDF has remained at the forefront of the ongoing struggle to ensure a high-quality and equitable opportunity to learn for all of our nation’s youth. For instance, LDF served as lead counsel to African-American and Latino students who intervened in litigation leading up to the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger5, which sanctioned race-conscious university admissions policies to obtain the educational benefits of a diverse student body.
LDF’s crusade against racial discrimination has not been limited to public education. As a result of LDF’s litigation in the 1940s-1960s, the Supreme Court overturned state-sanctioned segregation of public buildings, parks and recreation facilities, hospitals, and restaurants. Many of these victories resulted from LDF’s determined representation of civil rights movement leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and countless grassroots activists who were arrested for participating in freedom rides, demonstrations, and marches to protest entrenched racial discrimination throughout the country. In Hamm v. City of Rock Hill (1964)6 for example, LDF persuaded the Supreme Court to dismiss all prosecutions of demonstrators who had participated in civil rights sit-ins.