Leah C. Aden has served as a Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) since October 2018, assisting in the planning, strategy, and supervision of LDF’s voting rights work. In light of the post-Census redistricting cycle, Leah is leading the planning, strategy, and supervision of LDF’s redistricting efforts for state and local bodies in Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina, as well as in other jurisdictions like Illinois and Mississippi to prevent the dilution of Black voting power.
Since joining LDF in 2012, Leah has also had an active civil rights advocacy docket, using litigation, policy, and public education strategies to ensure that Black people have equal access to the political process, economic opportunity, and environmental justice.
Leah was a member of LDF’s litigation team in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a high-profile case in which, in a devastating opinion, the Supreme Court of the United States immobilized Section 5, the heart of the Voting Rights Act. Over more than four decades, Section 5 deterred, scrutinized, ameliorated, and blocked racially discriminatory voting changes that certain jurisdictions attempted to implement. Without Section 5’s protections in place following the Shelby County decision, Leah has successfully led LDF’s efforts to block a panoply of discriminatory voting changes such as to early voting and polling places. For example, under 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution, Leah is lead counsel, representing a student organization and students at a historically Black university who have been denied access to on-campus early voting in Allen, et al. v. Waller, et al. Leah is also currently leading LDF’s team in a challenge under Section 2 and the U.S. Constitution to an omnibus voter suppression effort adopted by the Georgia legislature in 2021, following the historic participation of Black voters in the 2020 and 2021 general and runoff elections.
To document the loss of Section 5’s protections, in 2016, Leah authored Democracy Diminished: State and Local Threats to Voting Post-Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which detailed state, county, and local voting changes — proposed or implemented — during the more than three years since the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County, and she has continued to track post-Shelby County voting changes.
Leah successfully represented Black voters in the following statewide cases: South Carolina v. United States, in which a three-judge federal court rejected South Carolina’s request to implement its discriminatory photo identification (ID) law for the 2012 presidential election; Texas v. Holder, in which a three-judge federal court blocked Texas’s attempt to implement a discriminatory government-issued photo ID measure in 2012; and Veasey v. Perry, a challenge under Section 2 and the U.S. Constitution to Texas’s discriminatory photo ID measure, once considered the strictest in the nation.
Leah also served as lead counsel in a Section 2 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, et al. As a result of this litigation, including a successful preliminary injunction, Black voters won district-based voting for county commission and school board elections, leading to the election of the first and second Black County Commissioners in the history of Fayette in 2014 and 2015.
Using the same provision of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution, Leah has served as lead counsel in a challenge to the at-large method for electing members to Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana’s 32nd Judicial District court in Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP, et al. v. Jindal, et al. In 2020, a three-judge court of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2017 federal court post-trial ruling, which had found that the electoral method for that state court violates the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution, and in 2019 had ordered the implementation of a court-drawn remedy.
Prior to the 2020 redistricting cycle, Leah worked with local leaders in other jurisdictions like Beaufort, South Carolina, Columbus, Ohio, and Tennessee to urge jurisdictions to adopt fair redistricting plans that provide Black voters with the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. During this post-2020 redistricting cycle, Leah is LDF’s lead counsel in South Carolina v. McMaster, a challenge involving the harms of the racially gerrymandered and intentionally dilutive congressional and House maps.
Leah also advocates for the abolition of prison-based gerrymandering, the practice of counting incarcerated people at their prison facility address rather than at their pre-incarceration home address for redistricting purposes; and felony disfranchisement laws, which disproportionately prevent Black people with felony convictions from voting, serving on juries, and otherwise participating in their communities. In 2016, Leah authored Free the Vote: Unlocking Democracy in the Cells and on the Streets.
She was a member of the team challenging Pennsylvania’s use of prison-based gerrymandering for its state legislative maps. Leah led LDF’s team that represented organizations and individual plaintiffs in Gruver, et al. v. Barton, et al., a challenge to Florida’s enactment of legislation that undermines a historic ballot initiative that restored the right to vote to 1.4 million people with felony convictions. After a three-judge court of the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a preliminary injunction on certain claims in February 2020, in November 2020, the en banc Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals then reversed a post-trial ruling, which found that Florida’s legislation violated the constitutional rights of plaintiffs.
Leah was a lead member of LDF’s team representing plaintiffs, marchers, and prospective voters, who challenged, under the Enforcement Act of 1871 (also known as the KKK Act), Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act and other federal and state laws, the police violence, including the use of pepper spray, that they encountered on a march to the polls in Graham, Alamance County, during North Carolina’s early voting period in fall 2020.
Leah frequently works with allies in numerous states to prepare Black voters to participate in federal, state, and local elections; delivers written and oral testimony before congressional, state, and local bodies; presents at conferences and conducts voting rights trainings; and speaks to national and local media, law students, civic and faith-based organizations, sororities, and other audiences about issues related to Black voting rights.
Leah has also represented a Black community organization in Tallassee, Alabama in its challenge under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to a state agency’s decision to permit a landfill to open and expand its operations in a predominately Black community. She has worked with other environmental justice advocates to urge the Environmental Protection Agency to protect against environmental racism.
Leah has authored or otherwise significantly contributed to numerous amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court, including in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, Evenwel v. Abbott, Gill v. Whitford, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, Rucho v. Common Cause, Department of Commerce v. New York, Trump v. New York, and Brnovich v. DNC, as well as other federal courts, including in Davidson v. City of Cranston, Patino v. City of Pasadena, and Texas v. EEOC. And she has led in the development of much of LDF’s public education guidance on the 2020 decennial census and post-2020 redistricting process.
Prior to joining LDF, Leah was a litigation associate in the New York office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP, having earned the prestigious Fried Frank/LDF Fellowship. At Fried Frank, Leah represented clients in a variety of complex civil litigation matters. She also previously served as a fellow at the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law, where she focused on public education issues, including school desegregation and education adequacy litigation. Leah served as a law clerk to the late Honorable John T. Nixon of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. Leah received her J.D. from Howard University School of Law and B.A. in History and African-American Studies from Columbia University.