Chris Kemmitt

Chris is a Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). He joined LDF in 2015 as Senior Counsel and has also served as Senior Counsel & Director of Professional Development. In his current role, Chris maintains an active litigation docket, leads LDF’s qualified immunity litigation team, supervises litigation involving both the criminal legal system and education, and assists in the management and administration of the litigation division.

Chris represents clients at trial, on appeal, and in postconviction proceedings. He is lead counsel in Attala County NAACP, et al. v. Doug Evans, a putative class action lawsuit challenging District Attorney Doug Evans’ thirty-year practice of using peremptory strikes to systematically remove Black prospective jurors from criminal jury pools. He is also lead counsel in Frazier v. Graves, a putative class action lawsuit alleging that Arkansas state officials acted with deliberate indifference in failing to protect individuals incarcerated in Arkansas prisons from COVID-19. Chris is on the litigation team in Scott, et al. v. Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Govt., a federal lawsuit challenging the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department’s use of tear gas, pepper balls, and other forms of military-grade technology against peaceful protesters following the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

Chris also represents criminal defendants who have been sentenced to death. He currently represents Kenneth Reams, who was sentenced to death in Arkansas at age 18. LDF obtained a reversal of Mr. Reams’ death sentence in 2018 on ineffective assistance of counsel grounds and continues to seek Mr. Reams’ release from prison. In Ball v. Vannoy, Chris was lead counsel in a postconviction challenge to Mr. Ball’s conviction and death sentence in a case where the prosecuting attorney had attempted to remove every Black juror from Mr. Ball’s jury and where defense counsel had essentially failed to conduct a mitigation investigation. In Miles v. California, Chris was the principal drafter of a petition for certiorari from the Supreme Court in a case where the defendant was sentenced to death after the district attorney disproportionately struck Black prospective jurors and claimed that he had done so because they were not upset by the O.J. Simpson verdict. 

Outside of the criminal system context, Chris represents clients in education and voting cases. In Stout v. Jefferson County, Chris represents a class of Black schoolchildren in a school desegregation lawsuit in Alabama.  In that case, the City of Gardendale sought to secede from Jefferson County Schools and create a separate, predominantly-white school district.  Chris represented the plaintiffs at trial and on appeal, where the Eleventh Circuit prohibited Gardendale’s secession efforts and upheld the trial court’s finding that Gardendale had pursued its own school district in order to keep Black children out of its schools.  Chris is also lead counsel for the appeal in T.R., by and through Brock v. Lamar County Board of Education. T.R. is a fourteen-year-old girl who was strip-searched twice by school officials—once after school officials had conclusively determined that she did not possess any contraband. A federal district court ruled that the school officials were protected from suit by qualified immunity. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court, ruling that the officials had violated T.R.’s Fourth Amendment rights in multiple respects and were not protected by qualified immunity.  Chris previously worked on Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, et al., v. Fayette County Board of Commissioners, et al., a challenge to the at-large election scheme used by Fayette County, GA to elect its Board of Commissioners and Board of Education.  As a result of this case, Fayette County was required to adopt district-based voting, which led to the election of the first and second Black members of the Board of Commissioners in the history of Fayette County. 

In addition to representing clients directly, Chris has co-authored amicus briefs in a number of cases, including Trump v. Hawaii, which challenged the constitutionality of then-President Trump’s “Muslim Ban” in the Supreme Court, and Flowers v. Mississippi, which challenged the capital conviction of Curtis Flowers after the district attorney systematically removed Black prospective jurors from the jury panel. Mr. Flowers’ conviction was ultimately reversed and all charges against him dismissed. Chris has published law review articles in the Harvard Journal on Legislation and the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, is often called upon as an expert in interviews for various media outlets, and has published opinion pieces in media outlets including USA Today and Slate.

Chris also serves on the Board of Directors for the Texas Defender Service.

Before coming to LDF, Chris spent seven years as an attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS), where he represented indigent defendants charged with serious crimes. As an appellate attorney, Chris secured a dismissal, reversal, or remand in a dozen criminal appeals.  He also tried both felony and misdemeanor cases in D.C. Superior Court. While at PDS, Chris conducted trainings on various topics for the D.C. defense bar and co-founded the PDS Criminal Law Blog.

Prior to joining PDS, Chris worked as a law clerk for the Honorable Betty Binns Fletcher of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the Honorable Nancy Gertner of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. He received his law degree from Yale Law School, where he served as Senior Editor of the Yale Law Journal. Chris graduated magna cum laude from Williams College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and earned his B.A. in History. 


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