Janai Nelson

President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Janai S. Nelson is the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF). The nation’s premier civil rights law organization fighting for racial justice and equality. Nelson formerly served as Associate Director-Counsel and as a member of LDF’s litigation and policy teams. She has also served as interim director of LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute and in various other leadership capacities at LDF.


Prior to joining LDF in June 2014, 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.


Before joining the faculty at St. John’s, Nelson was a Fulbright Scholar at the Legal Resources Center in Accra, Ghana, where she researched the political disenfranchisement of persons with criminal convictions and the advancement of democracy in Ghana. Nelson also served as the Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group where she oversaw all voting-related litigation and matters, litigated voting rights and redistricting cases, and worked on criminal justice issues on behalf of African Americans and other under-served communities.


Nelson was one of the lead counsel in Veasey v. Abbott (2018), a successful federal challenge to Texas’s voter ID law, and the lead architect of NUL v. Trump (2020), which sought to declare President Trump’s executive order banning diversity, equity and inclusion training in the workplace unconstitutional before it was later rescinded. A renowned scholar of voting rights and election law, Nelson continues to produce cutting-edge scholarship on domestic and comparative election law, race, and democratic theory. Nelson received a B.A. from New York University and a J.D. from UCLA School of Law. 


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