Janai Nelson


Janai S. Nelson is president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), a premier civil rights law organization fighting for racial justice and equality since 1940. Nelson formerly served as LDF’s associate director-counsel and has helped steward LDF through a period of unprecedented expansion. 

Prior to joining LDF in 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. 

A renowned scholar of voting rights and election law, Nelson produces cutting-edge scholarship on domestic and comparative election law, race, and democratic theory. She regularly speaks as a civil rights, constitutional law, and election law expert for major news outlets and at conferences. Nelson has been published by popular news platforms, including The New York Times, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, and Reuters. 

She received the 2013 Derrick A. Bell Award from the American Association of Law Schools Section on Minority Groups and was named one of Lawyers of Color’s 50 Under 50 minority professors making an impact in legal education. 

Before entering academia, Nelson was a Fulbright Scholar at the Legal Resources Center in Accra, Ghana. She received a bachelor of arts from New York University and a J.D. from UCLA School of Law. She clerked for the Honorable Theodore McMillian on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and the Honorable David H. Coar on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.