NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund

  • February 13, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In a State of the Union Address largely focused on economic policy aimed at helping the middle class as opposed to measures long trumpeted by conservative lawmakers that coddle the superrich, President Obama also highlighted the unequal effects that too many state laws had on voting last year. As The New York Times recently reported, African Americans and Latinos “waited nearly twice as long to vote as whites, according to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.”

    Obama called for a bipartisan commission, including his campaign lawyer Robert Bauer and Mitt Romney’s counsel Ben Ginsberg, to investigate the voting difficulties and irregularities of the 2012 election cycle.

    That’s a commendable action, but we must not forget that the nation’s strongest law to combat racial discrimination in voting remains the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and especially its major enforcement provision, Section 5. Section 5 applies to certain states and localities with deep histories of discriminating against potential voters because of their race. And in 2006, Congress developed an exhaustive record showing that racial discrimination in voting still persisted and indeed remained most invidious in those jurisdictions. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act provides citizens nationwide with the ability to challenge discriminatory practices wherever they occur.

    But Section 5 is the bulwark against those state officials bent on creating ways to keep minorities away from the polls. Indeed, the Department of Justice and several civil liberties groups relied on Section 5 to halt or blunt efforts in Texas, South Carolina and Florida (all covered by Section 5) that would have disproportionately impacted the minority vote.

    While Section 5 is integral to the Voting Rights Act, it is also despised by some state officials in the covered jurisdictions. Alabama officials are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate Section 5, arguing in part that racial discrimination in voting is largely a relic. The high court will hear oral argument in the case, Shelby County v. Holder on Feb. 27 and is expected to issue a ruling in late spring or early summer. (For more information about the Voting Rights Act and the Shelby County case see ACS’s Voting Rights Act Resource Page.)

  • February 4, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In 2006 when Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized Section 5, the major enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act, it did so “at the height of its powers in regulating the intersecting areas of voting, race, and political rights,” a bipartisan group of congressmen state in a brief lodged in Shelby County v. Holder.

    On Feb. 27, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the Shelby County case. Section 5 requires certain states and localities with deep histories of racial discrimination in voting to obtain “preclearance” from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. before making changes to voting procedures. Officials in Shelby County, Ala., lodged the lawsuit arguing that Section 5 is no longer needed. The officials, with the support of the state’s attorney general, argue that racial discrimination in voting is largely a thing of the past and therefore state officials should not need the federal government’s approval of changes to voting procedures.

    As noted on this blog, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), representing some voters in Alabama, is battling those claims in defense of the landmark law. (Other civil liberties groups are also urging the Supreme Court to uphold Section 5. To see some briefs and more information about the VRA, visit ACS’s Voting Rights Act Resource Page.)

    The friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-V.A.) and Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), also urges the high court to show judicial restraint and uphold Section 5. The group of House Judiciary Committee members served as leadership during the 2006 reauthorization of Section 5. The group details the process of creating a voluminous congressional record that supported the ongoing need for the VRA’s Section 5.

    Rep. Sensenbrenner in a press statement announcing the brief called the VRA “the crown jewel of the civil rights laws” that should be “ardently” defended. Rep. Conyers said Section 5 “remains critical to enforcing the constitutional rights of all voters, especially for voters in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.”

  • October 3, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Joshua Civin is counsel to the director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF).  In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Civin presented oral argument in support of UT’s race-conscious admissions policy on behalf of amici LDF and the Black Student Alliance at UT Austin (BSA)Last month, LDF, along with the BSA and the Black Ex-Students of Texas, filed one of the more than 70 amici briefs supporting UT in the Supreme Court.

    Even more so today than when the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s race-conscious admissions policy nine years ago in Grutter v. Bollinger, there is broad consensus that a diverse college experience better prepares students to participate in our nation’s civic life and our rapidly globalizing economy. This consensus is reflected by the wide spectrum of amicus filings supporting the University of Texas’s admissions program in Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin (UT), one of the most widely discussed cases of the Court’s current term. UT’s supporters include, among many others, Colin Powell and thirty-six other high-ranking retired military officers; General Electric, American Express, Wal-Mart, and fifty-four other leading corporations; small businesses; prominent religious denominations; the United States; California and an array of other states; and the National League of Cities.   

    Indeed, even Abigail Fisher, the petitioner in this case, is not urging the Supreme Court to reconsider “the benefits of diversity for society as a whole, businesses, the military, or the civil service.” Distancing herself from the radical claims of her supporters, Fisher makes this important clarification in her reply brief

    Still, Fisher’s arguments could do grave damage. If they are accepted by a majority of the Justices, UT would be able to continue to consider virtually any aspect of students’ backgrounds and experiences as part of its individualized, holistic admissions process — except for their race. Eliminating this one factor, among so many others, would demean students whose race has been an integral part of their experience growing up, as well as those whose race remains a vital part of their identity. As Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow and Yale Law School Dean Robert Post explain in their amicus brief supporting UT, it “would have the perverse effect of penalizing some applicants in the name of equal protection.”

  • March 23, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    The country lost a civil rights giant, with the passing of president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, John A. Payton. He died suddenly on Thursday at Johns Hopkins University Hospital after a brief illness, The Root reports.

    Payton led LDF in several major Supreme Court victories, including Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder, which rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Lewis v. City of Chicago, a major employment discrimination victory, according to a statement from LDF.

    The statement adds:

    Widely considered one of the country's most skilled members of the Supreme Court bar, John Payton's enduring legacy will be his commitment to a principle articulated by LDF's founder, Charles Hamilton Houston. "What I am more concerned about," Houston said, "is that the Negro shall not be content simply with demanding an equal share in the existing system. It seems to me that his historical challenge is to make sure that the system [that] shall survive in the United States of America shall be a system which guarantees justice and freedom for everyone."

    LDF's work will go on, in just the way that John would have wanted.

    President Obama said today in a statement:

    Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of our dear friend John Payton. As president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, John led the organization's involvement in five Supreme Court cases.

    A true champion of equality, he helped protect civil rights in the classroom and at the ballot box. The legal community has lost a legend, and while we mourn John's passing, we will never forget his courage and fierce opposition to discrimination in all its forms.

    Payton was a voice for the civil rights community, and a leading constitutional thinker. During a 2009 American Constitution Society event at the National Press Club on “The Road from Lincoln to Obama,” Payton discussed the importance of shedding our racist history as we move forward with our constitutional jurisprudence.

    “I would say Reconstruction didn’t fail. It was destroyed,” he said.

    He continued:

  • January 12, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Munford Boyd Professor of Law, Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law, and Professor of History at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement.

    Judge Robert L. Carter passed away last week. I had the honor of serving as a law clerk to the judge and found that experience profoundly rewarding. The judge, a brilliant man best known for his role as a chief strategist in Brown v. Board of Education, inspired me and many others. I share memories of my experience with him to shed light on his stupendous legal ability, his character, and his contributions as a mentor who taught invaluable lessons about life and the law. 

    As a NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyer, Judge Carter litigated Briggs v. Elliott, the South Carolina case consolidated with four others as Brown. We initially bonded over my South Carolina roots: he had a hand in my life’s trajectory, and he knew it. I, in turn, saw in the judge a model of professional success and outstanding moral character. Each day, he made something extraordinary seem ordinary:  the idea that one individual could touch another’s life and radically alter its course. After spending a year in the presence of this great man — a lawyer who faced racial threats and insults merely for practicing his profession — a clerk for Judge Carter could scarcely contemplate disengagement from the world. The judge’s life and work taught social responsibility.

    Over the course of his career as a lawyer, Judge Carter earned a reputation as a man of strong convictions, unyielding principle, and great passion. Carter earned the reputation when, as Thurgood Marshall’s lieutenant, he consistently took the most “radical” view among LDF strategists, and when he resigned as General Counsel of the NAACP to support a colleague’s right to criticize the Warren Court. Yet, the judge, a Nixon appointee, taught me that success in the legal profession requires a clear head, a balanced and context-specific assessment of a problem, and a judicious temperament. He conveyed that passion for one’s work or causes can be productive, only if coupled with strategic thinking and professionalism.

    The judge taught this lesson in chambers on many occasions. In a long-running class action employment discrimination suit he once counseled that it would be counterproductive to coerce compliance with his orders, despite the defendant’s continued resistance to opening job opportunities to the plaintiffs. Sanctions might have been ordered in that case. But the judge had presided over the action for years. Knowing the parties and issues very well, he concluded that it made no sense to force this defendant into submission at that particular moment in time. Judges should neither look for, nor create, confrontations where they can be avoided. A judge might effectively invoke the full force of his powers on some occasions, but on others a thoughtful judge might choose not make a big show of his full powers. Good judging required knowing when to do which. 

    The judge also taught judiciousness through his writings about Brown. Not content to bask in the afterglow of his great achievement, the judge critiqued the legal strategy in Brown. He found a paradox. Brown served the U.S.’s geopolitical interests, and in many ways, propelled race relations forward in this country. But, ironically, in the public schools context, Brown proved a tremendous disappointment. The federal judges charged with articulating rights, and local officials charged with implementing legal remedies, ultimately bear the blame for Brown’s mixed legacy in the schools. However, Judge Carter also found fault with himself and his colleagues. The lawyers, he said, fixated on the constitutional dimensions of Brown, when the case also touched upon critically important matters of educational philosophy and pedagogy. The attorneys did not seriously contemplate, much less adequately define, quality education. That limitation left generations of black students adrift in schools, subject to social experimentation, or worse, educational malpractice.