Leah C. Aden

Leah C. Aden currently serves as Senior Counsel at LDF. Leah previously served as a Deputy Director of Litigation at LDF from October 2018 to May 2023, assisting in the planning, strategy, and supervision of LDF’s voting rights work addressing vote denial and vote dilution schemes. During the post-2020 Census redistricting cycle — the first in decades with severely weakened legal protections—Leah led the planning, strategy, and supervision of challenges to state and local bodies, including in Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, Illinois and Mississippi, to prevent racial discrimination in line-drawing that harms Black voters.

Since joining LDF in February 2012 and into the present, Leah also has had an active civil rights advocacy docket. She uses litigation, policy, and public education strategies to ensure that Black people have equal access to the political process, economic opportunity, and environmental justice.

Leah is LDF’s lead counsel in South Carolina v. McMaster/Alexander v. SC NAACP, a challenge involving the harms of the racially discriminatory federal congressional and state House maps. In 2022, the parties settled the challenge to the House map, resulting in fairer electoral opportunities for Black voters. And in January 2023, a unanimous panel found after trial that one of three congressional districts Plaintiffs challenged under the U.S. Constitution was racially gerrymandered and intentionally discriminatory; that decision is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court where Leah presented oral argument in October 2023.

Leah also currently is LDF’s lead counsel in a challenge to Arkansas’s 2022-enacted congressional map for racial discrimination (i.e., racial gerrymandering and intentional vote dilution) in violation of the Constitution.

And Leah is LDF’s lead counsel in an action to preserve the consent decree in the landmark Chisom case, which established the first and only district anchored in New Orleans Parish under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which provides Black voters with the opportunity to elect their preferred candidate to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Leah was a member of LDF’s litigation team in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a major case in which the Supreme Court of the United States immobilized Section 5, the heart of the VRA. 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 Shelby County, Leah has successfully led LDF’s efforts to block a panoply of discriminatory voting changes impacting every phase of voting.

For example, Leah currently leads LDF’s team in a challenge under Section 2 of the VRA 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. And, under 2 of the VRA and the U.S. Constitution, Leah was lead counsel, representing a student organization and students at a historically Black university who alleged they were denied access to on-campus early voting in Allen v. Waller

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 regularly tracked post-Shelby County voting changes from 2013 to fall 2021.

Leah successfully represented Black voters in the following statewide cases under Sections 2 and/or 5 of the VRA: 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 previously 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 v. Fayette County Board of Commissioners. 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.

Leah 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 v. Jindal. 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 VRA and U.S. Constitution, and in 2019 had ordered the implementation of a court-drawn remedy.

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. And she was a member of the team challenging Pennsylvania’s use of prison-based gerrymandering for its state legislative maps, a case dismissed on procedural grounds but ultimately successful in ending that practice in the redistricting process.

Leah led LDF’s team that represented organizations and individual plaintiffs in Gruver v. Barton/Jones v. DeSantis a challenge to Florida’s enactment of legislation that undermines a historic 2018 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 led LDF’s contributions to a jointly-authored resource for voting in Florida with a past conviction.

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 and college students, civic and faith-based organizations, sororities, and other audiences about issues related to Black voting rights.

Leah has represented a Black community organization in Tallassee, Alabama in challenges 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 amici (friend-of-the-court) briefs before the: U.S. Supreme Court including in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. AlabamaEvenwel v. AbbottGill v. WhitfordHusted v. A. Philip Randolph InstituteRucho v. Common CauseDepartment of Commerce v. New YorkTrump v. New York, and Brnovich v. DNC; as other federal courts, including in Davidson v. City of CranstonPatino v. City of Pasadena, and Texas v. EEOC, and in state courts, like in Vote v. Louisiana and Florida’s voter prosecution cases. 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.

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