LDF's New President and Director-Counsel

Janai S. Nelson

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s (LDF) Board of Directors named Janai S. Nelson as the organization’s eighth President and Director-Counsel effective March 15, 2022.

Ms. Nelson previously worked alongside former President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill for nearly eight years as Associate Director-Counsel. Ms. Ifill stepped down from her role in the spring of 2022 after nearly a decade leading the organization through its greatest period of growth and transformation. The leadership transition marks the first woman-to-woman transition in LDF history.

"For the work ahead, I am thrilled that Janai Nelson, who has been my trusted partner, will take LDF to even greater heights. I have no doubt that she is the right leader to build upon the strong foundation we have laid over the last several years and Janai will continue to advance the organization’s mission to defend and protect the rights of Americans all over the country."

- Sherrilyn Ifill, 7th President and Director-Counsel of LDF

"In moments of struggle and polarization, we need leaders who will stand strong in their beliefs and push forward in spite of whatever challenge lay before them. Janai S. Nelson is a fiercely talented litigator and true advocate for change that does not shy away from doing the hard work for the betterment of all people. Her unwavering commitment and vision for change to break down the barriers that people of color continue to face is exactly the type of leadership needed to build upon the well-earned legacy of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund."

- Darren Walker, Ford Foundation President

"Delighted and proud that the fabulous Janai Nelson, UCLA School of Law class of 1996 will be the next president of the Legal Defense Fund. Yes, the inspirational Sherrilyn Ifill leaves big shoes to fill, and Janai Nelson is entirely up to that task."

- Jennifer Mnookin, Dean of the UCLA School of Law

"I am confident that our comrade of nearly a decade, Janai Nelson, is the best candidate to carry the torch and continue fighting for our rights in the courts and beyond."

- Derrick Johnson, President and CEO NAACP

"Janai Nelson is not only one of the most talented lawyers I've had a chance to see in action, but also deeply rooted in a just vision for a country we can be but are not today. I know she'll do everything in her power to lead us there."

- Danielle Lang, Voting Rights Director, Campaign Legal Center

Janai S. Nelson is LDF’s President and Director-Counsel. Ms. Nelson has also helped to steward some of LDF’s most pivotal developments in the past seven years, including guiding the design and launching one of the most far-reaching efforts to create the next generation of civil rights leaders: The Marshall-Motley Scholars Program. Prior to joining LDF in June 2014, Ms. Nelson was Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship and Associate Director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s University School of Law where she was also a full professor of law and served on the law school’s Senior Leadership Team. 

Ms. Nelson began practicing law as the 1998 recipient of a LDF/Fried Frank Fellowship. She received a B.A. from New York University and a J.D. from UCLA School of Law.