As Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Jin Hee Lee leads the Strategic Initiatives Department, which houses specific projects and campaigns integrating LDF’s multi-faceted advocacy tools—including litigation, policy, organizing, communications, research, and public education—to maximize the impact of affirmative, strategic, and community-centered advocacy that secures the full citizenship and equality of Black Americans. Jin Hee became the inaugural director of the Strategic Initiatives Department after serving 14 years as Assistant Counsel, Senior Counsel, Deputy Director of Litigation, and Senior Deputy Director of Litigation at LDF.
Jin Hee oversees LDF’s Pro Truth Initiative, which builds upon LDF’s legacy in Brown v. Board of Education to protect the truth of the United States’ history of racial subjugation and its ongoing impact on present-day, systemic inequalities, especially as taught in K-12 and post-secondary public education. The Pro Truth Initiative also includes efforts to preserve efforts to promote racial diversity in K-12 and higher education. Relatedly, Jin Hee leads LDF’s representation of a multi-racial coalition of 25 Harvard student and alumni organizations, which serves as amici curiae in Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard, a case challenging Harvard’s affirmative action policy. As counsel for the amici curiae Harvard student and alumni organizations, Jin Hee presented argument to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in the Harvard case. 980 F.3d 157 (1st. Cir. 2020).
Jin Hee also supervises the Justice in Public Safety Project, which aims to address entrenched racial biases within law enforcement and to reimagine public safety that protects and invests in Black communities and breaks the pernicious and false stereotypes associating Blackness with violence and criminality. For over a decade, Jin Hee was the lead plaintiffs’ attorney in Davis, et al. v. City of New York and New York City Housing Authority, a federal class action lawsuit that is part of the court-ordered monitoring of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and seeks systemic changes to the NYPD’s discriminatory trespass enforcement practices against Black and Latinx public housing residents and guests. See Davis v. City of New York, 296 F.R.D. 158 (S.D.N.Y. 2013); Davis v. City of New York, 959 F. Supp. 2d 324 (S.D.N.Y. 2013); Davis v. City of New York, 902 F. Supp. 2d 405 (S.D.N.Y. 2012); Davis v. City of New York, 898 F. Supp. 2d 600 (S.D.N.Y. 2012); Davis v. City of New York, 812 F. Supp. 2d 333 (S.D.N.Y. 2011).
As head of the Strategic Initiatives Department, Jin Hee is also responsible for LDF’s Voting Rights Defender/Prepared To Vote Project, which engages in election protection efforts, provides election information to the voting public, and proactively combats voter suppression in partnership with community stakeholders.
Jin Hee’s other litigation achievements include Reams v. Arkansas, in which the death sentence of a Black man, who was put on death row as a teenager, was successfully vacated after she argued before the Arkansas Supreme Court, raising issues of ineffective assistance of counsel, jury underrepresentation, and jury discrimination. 2018 Ark. 324. As lead counsel in Brister v. Mississippi, Jin Hee investigated, conceptualized, and litigated the first case in Mississippi—and one of the first cases in the United States—in which a mandatory juvenile life without parole sentence was declared unconstitutional pursuant to the landmark United States Supreme Court decision, Miller/Jackson v. Alabama. This case led to the release of the first person in Mississippi who had been previously sentenced to juvenile life without parole. Jin Hee also successfully argued before the North Carolina Supreme Court in State v. Burke that the retroactive repeal of the North Carlina Racial Justice Act, which allowed statutory claims of racial discrimination in charging, sentencing, and jury selection in capital cases, was unconstitutional. 374 N.C. 617 (2020).
Jin Hee has submitted numerous amicus briefs in federal and state appellate courts, including the United States Supreme Court and the highest court in multiple state jurisdictions. She has spoken frequently on issues concerning race, civil rights, criminal justice, and educational equity in law schools, legal conferences, governmental hearings, media engagements, and community meetings throughout the country. Her articles have been published in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review and the Fordham Urban Law Journal. Along with Sherrilyn Ifill, Jin Hee co-authored the chapter “Do Black Lives Matter to the Courts?” in the anthology Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment, edited by Professor Angela J. Davis.
Jin Hee graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 1995 with a concentration in African Studies and received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English in South Korea. She is a 2000 graduate of Columbia Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and Executive Editor of A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual, published by the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, and Submissions Editor of the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. She also received the Emil Schlesinger Labor Prize from Columbia Law School. She served as law clerk to Judge Martha Vázquez in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico.
Prior to joining LDF in 2008, Jin Hee was a staff attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and a litigation associate in the law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP.
In 2016, Jin Hee was recognized by Columbia Law School as the Distinguished Public Interest Graduate of the Year