NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

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NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

In 1940 the organization formerly known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and now called the NAACP launched the Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Since its founding, the organization has been involved in more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court than any other nongovernmental organization.

The NAACP, which had been founded in 1909 to support Civil Rights, soon found itself needing direction and aid as it sought to help people find their way through the criminal justice system. Under the leadership of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the LDF was created to provide information about the criminal justice system and legal assistance to indigent African Americans.

In 1957, three years after the Supreme Court's landmark decision in brown v. board of education of topeka, kansas, 347 U.S. 483, 47 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873, which held that Segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, the LDF was established as an entirely separate organization from the NAACP. The LDF is headquartered in New York City and has regional offices in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. The LDF has close to two dozen attorneys on staff whose work is supplemented by assistance from hundreds of attorneys around the United States.

The LDF primarily works with issues involving education, Affirmative Action, fair employment and economic access, issues related to voting and other forms of civic and political participation, and criminal justice issues including the death penalty and prison reform. With more than 100 active cases, the LDF has one of the largest legal caseloads of any public service organization in the country.

While the primary focus of the LDF is on court cases, the fund also monitors legislation, provides advocacy, education research, and builds coalitions with related organizations. The scope of LDF activity has also widened to include advocacy for other minorities in this country as well as for global Human Rights. To this end, the LDF has aided in the establishment of similar organizations that advocate for other minority groups in the United States. Additionally, the fund has used its experience and legal expertise to help form public interest legal organizations in Brazil, Canada, and South Africa.In addition to the Brown case which resulted in a flood of legal cases around the country relating to School Desegregation, the LDF won a number of significant cases in the 1950s that concerned housing discrimination, voting access, jury selection, the use of forced confessions, and access to counsel by indigent persons.

In the 1960s the LDF provided counsel for martin luther king jr., and other civil rights activists. The LDF also began its drive to abolish Capital Punishment. LDF provided counsel in numerous death penalty cases and was able to stop executions in the United States between 1966 and 1978. Since 1965 the LDF has published Death Row USA, a list of death-row inmates.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the LDF undertook hundreds of Class Action suits against employers, unions, and governmental units that have helped secure and safeguard the employment rights of thousands of workers.

The LDF also continued to support major voting rights legislation and to be involved in numerous cases aimed at securing voting rights for minorities. In the early 2000s the LDF continued to be involved in cases stemming from the redistricting of congressional districts after the 2000 census. After the 2000 presidential election, the LDF and five other civil rights organizations filed a class action lawsuit against Florida's Secretary of State and other elected officials alleging that a significant number of minority citizens were unable to vote or faced severe obstacles in trying to register and vote.

In the early 2000s the Fund continued its fight in support of equal education and affirmative action. In February 2003 the LDF filed briefs in two major suits that challenged the use of race-conscious criteria in the admissions programs of the University of Michigan law school and its undergraduate School of Literature, Science, and the Arts. In June the Supreme Court decided in favor of the University of Michigan race-conscious criteria for admissions (Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S., ___, 123 S.Ct. 2235, 156 L.Ed.2d 304 [U.S., Jun. 23, 2003]).

Further readings

Greenberg, Jack. 1994. Crusaders in the Courts: How a Dedicated Band of Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: BasicBooks.

Kluger, Richard. 2004. Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality. Rev. ed. New York: Knopf.

Orfield, Gary, Susan E. Eaton, and Elaine R. Jones. 1997. Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown v. Board of Education. New York: New Press.

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Available online at <> (accessed July 28, 2003).

Schwartz, Bernard. 1986. Swann's Way: The School Busing Case and the Supreme Court. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.


Civil Rights Acts; Equal Protection; NAACP.

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