The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is marking its 75th anniversary this year. Thurgood Marshall, who became the nation’s first black Supreme Court Justice, founded LDF on March 20, 1940. Marshall imagined an America that did not yet exist, one where there is racial justice and the promise of equality for all Americans. For the past 75 years, LDF has worked to fulfill Marshall’s vision through litigation and advocacy at the highest level.
Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF, which has been a separate entity from the NAACP since 1957, stated, “The Legal Defense Fund has fundamentally changed America. Every American alive today has been touched by the efforts that this legacy organization has achieved over the past 75 years.”
“LDF ended school segregation in the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, in a unanimous ruling. We represented Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and other civil rights leaders and grassroots activists in court. We won an end to white-only voting in primaries and have blocked countless other efforts to keep blacks from voting. Thanks to LDF’s work in employment and housing, discrimination in those spheres has been curtailed considerably. In short, LDF has staunchly defended and advanced the rights of the disenfranchised at every level of the American justice system.” Ifill continued, “Despite LDF’s remarkable victories against unfathomable odds, we have a long way to go on the road to full racial equality.”
LDF has argued more cases in the Supreme Court of the United States than any other organization, and second only to the U.S. Solicitor General’s office.
By desegregating public schools, LDF instigated the desegregation of all public spaces. In the face of fierce and often violent “massive resistance” to public school desegregation, LDF was forced to sue hundreds of school districts across the country to fulfill Brown’s promise. And, the battle to ensure equal educational opportunity for all students, regardless of race, continues today. LDF is currently defending the rights of universities to consider race as one of many factors in college applications and leading the fight against discriminatory discipline in schools to end the school-to-prison pipeline.
LDF’s long and successful history advancing voting rights, began in 1943 when Thurgood Marshall persuaded the Supreme Court to force Texas to allow African-Americans to vote in the Democratic primary. This case set a nationwide precedent. In 1965, LDF once again represented Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to prevent disruption of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, following “Bloody Sunday.” These events led to the passage of the Voting Rights
Act, the “crown jewel” civil rights legislation.
We successfully fought in coalition with other civil rights partners for the 2006 reauthorization of the Act’s special provisions, obtaining broad bipartisan support, and defended the Act’s constitutionality before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 and 2013. LDF is urging Congress to pass legislation this year to restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that was struck down in 2013.
LDF continues to challenge discriminatory voting measures, or “old poisons in new bottles”, that threaten to diminish the integrity of our democracy. Our recent voter ID litigation in Texas in which a federal judge found that the voter ID laws were designed intentionally to prevent African Americans and Latinos from voting is but one example.
LDF has also consistently advocated for criminal justice reform that would eliminate racial disparities and bias at every point in the criminal justice system, including in the policing of African-American communities.
Our attorneys most recently renewed its call for significant reforms following the killing of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and many more before them. LDF has successfully challenged inadequate legal representation, discriminatory jury selection, capital punishment, and criminal statutes and harsh sentencing that disproportionately impact African-Americans and ensure the incarceration of large numbers of Blacks in prison.
As a longstanding champion of economic justice, LDF has had many groundbreaking victories, such as the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1971 decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Company. Griggs literally transformed our nation’s workplaces by embracing a powerful tool – now known as the “disparate impact” framework. Today, the disparate impact standard bars the government or certain private sector actors from unjustifiably pursuing practices that have a disproportionately harmful effect on communities of color and some other groups protected in employment and fair housing laws. Through Griggs and hundreds of other class-action suits, LDF has helped secure jobs and employment rights for tens of thousands of citizens confronted by unfair employment practices. In a current U.S. Supreme Court case to be decided later this year, LDF is now defending the constitutionality of the important disparate impact protections to prevent housing discrimination.
Following its founder Thurgood Marshall, LDF has been ably led by some of the country’s legal luminaries: Jack Greenberg (1961-1984), Julius Chambers (1984-1993), Elaine Jones (1993-2004), Ted Shaw (2004-2008), John Payton (2008-2012), and now Sherrilyn Ifill (2013-present).
LDF also counts among its illustrious alumni, some of the greatest legal minds and leaders of this nation: Constance Baker Motley (first black female federal judge), Attorney General Eric Holder (first black Attorney General) Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Congressman James Clyburn, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Marion Wright Edelman (President, Children’s Defense Fund), Judge David H. Coar (federal district court), Federal District Court Judge Robert L. Carter, Professor Lani Guinier, Former EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien, Federal District Court Judge Victor Bolden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Vanita Gupta, Professor Pamela Karlan among many others.
As President Obama has stated, “The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is simply the best civil rights law firm in American history .” LDF looks forward to another seventy-five years of bold, visionary, and transformative civil rights leadership.
Learn more about LDF’s seventy-five year history fighting for racial justice by visiting www.ldf75.org where we will feature historic case victories, archival material, photos, and videos.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in media attributions as the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund or LDF.