Body of lawyers and legal experts that seeks to advance civil rights by sponsoring litigation.
Although the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
The LDF’s primary objective was to eradicate segregation. Although confident that their best chance of success was with the counter-majoritarian federal judiciary, LDF attorneys recognized that the Supreme Court had upheld segregation as constitutional under the doctrine of separate but equal in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). To end segregation, the LDF needed to work within the separate but equal doctrine
While pleased with these victories, LDF attorneys recognized that segregation was still prevalent. Although many civil rights advocates cautioned against assailing the separate but equal doctrine, LDF attorney Thurgood Marshall
Although it was a monumental civil rights victory, Brown did not expunge racial discrimination from society. Consequently, the LDF continued sponsoring cases to achieve civil rights for racial minorities. The LDF was also successful in cases that forced universities to admit
As the Court became more conservative in the 1980’s, the LDF faced difficulty with its racial discrimination litigation. The LDF lost two crucial civil rights cases when the Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1866’s prohibition of racial discrimination in private contracts did not extend to racial harassment in the workplace in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union
Encouraged by the success of Brown, many LDF attorneys began to oppose capital punishment.
In order to halt the flood of appeals, the Court agreed to rule on the constitutionality of capital punishment. In Furman v. Georgia
After Gregg, the LDF experienced some success in reducing the use of capital punishment. It sponsored cases that invalidated mandatory death sentences, such as Woodson v. North Carolina
By the 1980’s the Court had become more conservative, and public opinion had shifted substantially in favor of capital punishment, and the LDF experienced difficulty litigating on behalf of condemned inmates. The Court ruled against the LDF by deciding that psychiatric testimony could be used against capital defendants to show future dangerousness in Barefoot v. Estelle
Greenberg, Jack. Crusaders in the Court: How a Dedicated Band of Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 1994. _______. Judicial Process and Social Change: Cases and Materials. St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing, 1977. Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice: The History of “Brown v. Board of Education” and Black America’s Struggle for Equality. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. Meltsner, Michael. Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment. New York: Random House, 1973.
Brown v. Board of Education
Cruel and unusual punishment
Furman v. Georgia
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Plessy v. Ferguson
Race and discrimination
Separate but equal doctrine