John C. Brittain
Professor of Law
B.A., Howard University 1966; J.D., Howard University 1969
John C. Brittain joined the faculty of the University of the
District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law, in 2009, as a tenured
professor of law. He had previously served as Dean of the Thurgood Marshall
School of law at Texas Southern University in Houston, as a tenured law
professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law for twenty-two years,
and as Chief Counsel and Senior Deputy Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for
Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., a public interest law organization
founded by President John F. Kennedy to enlist private lawyers in taking pro
bono cases in civil rights.
Professor Brittain writes and litigates on issues in civil
and human rights, especially in education law. In 2015, the Mississippi Center for Justice honored him as a "pioneering civil rights leader and esteemed law professor who has inspired a generation of young attorneys." In 2013, he was named to the
Charles Hamilton Houston Chair at North Carolina Central University School of Law,
established to bring prominent civil rights law professors and litigators to the
law school to teach constitutional and civil rights law for a year. Professor
Brittain was one of the original counsel team in Sheff v. O’Neill, the landmark school desegregation case decided by
the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1996, chronicled in Susan Eaton’s book, The Children in Room E4: American Education
on Trial, in which he is frequently mentioned. He is presently a part of a
legal team representing private plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the State
of Maryland for denying Maryland’s historically black institutions of higher
learning – Morgan, Coppin, Bowie and Maryland Eastern Shore Universities –
comparable and competitive opportunities with traditional white universities.
Brittain has participated in filing nearly a dozen briefs in
the United States Supreme Court, and he was a member of a legal team that filed
a friend of the court brief on behalf of the NAACP in the Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and
Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of
Education (Louisville) school cases decided by the Supreme Court in 2007,
concerning voluntary race-conscious student assignment plans. He filed a friend
of the court brief in the Connecticut finance adequacy lawsuit, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in
Education Funding v. Rell (2010), a landmark case that recognized the state
constitution has a qualitative dimension guaranteeing all students an adequate
education. Professor Brittain has an interest in a related area, the
intersection between housing and school segregation, and the policies that
contribute to structural poverty in low-income and neighborhoods of color.
He has been president of the National Lawyers’ Guild, a
member of the Executive Committee and the Board of the ACLU, and legal counsel
to the NAACP at the local level and national office of the General Counsel. In
1993, the NAACP awarded Professor Brittain the prestigious William Robert Ming
Advocacy Award for legal service to the NAACP without a fee. The Ming award was
named in honor of the African American law professor, at the University of
Chicago, and brilliant civil rights lawyer who worked closely with Justice
Professor Brittain has traveled extensively on international
human rights investigations in Africa, Central America, the Middle East,
Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and to the United Nations in Geneva,
Switzerland. Currently, he serves as
Chairperson of the Norflet Fund Cy Pres, a charitable organization created by
settlement in a lawsuit involving John Hancock Life Insurance Company for
racial discrimination against African Americans in selling life insurance, that
will distribute approximately $16 million in grants to benefit African
Americans in education, health, and post-Katrina relief. He has also served on
the board of directors of the Hartford Community Foundation and represented
many individuals in pro bono cases.
He loves reading books and sailing, and enjoys a national
ranking for masters runners in his age group. Like the comedian and activist
Dick Gregory, Brittain is a vegetarian who eats no meats, fish or fowl.
Research and Teaching Interests
- Administrative Law
- Civil Procedure
- Civil and Political Rights
- John C. Brittain, Reducing Reliance on Testing to Promote Diversity, in The Future of Affirmative Action: New Paths to Higher Education Diversity after Fisher v. University of Texas (Richard D. Kahlenberg, ed.) (Century Foundation Press, 2014) (with Benjamin Landy).
- John C. Brittain, Affirmative Action Survives Again in the Supreme Court on a Legal Technicality: An Analysis of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 57 How. L.J. 960 (2014).
- John C. Brittain & John K. Pierre, Maryland Lawsuit Is Hardly “Unusual,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 29, 2012 (Letters to the Editor).
- John C. Brittain, Room for Debate: Why Do Top Schools Still Take Legacy Applicants: Bad for Diversity, N.Y. Times, Nov. 13, 2011; updated May 13, 2013.
- John C. Brittain, Admitting the Truth: The Effects of Affirmative Action, Legacy Preference and the Meritocratic Ideal on Students of Color in College Admissions, in Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions (Century Foundation Press, 2010) (with Eric L. Bloom).
Recent Presentations and Activities
- John C. Brittain, Presentation, 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 2014: Is Education Equal Today for all School Children? (17th Annual Robert Smalls Lecture, University of South Carolina African American Studies Program, S.C., Apr. 10, 2014).
- John C. Brittain, Presentation, President Johnson’s War on Poverty and Neighborhood Legal Services Program: Legal Services, an Irreconcilable Contradiction Due to Restrictions on Cases (Overcoming Barriers to Economic Opportunity in America Today: Renewing the War on Poverty Fifty Years Later, UDC Law Review Symposium, University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, D.C., Apr. 4, 2014).
- John C. Brittain, Presentation, The Role of Civil Rights and Public Interest Lawyers (27th Annual Robert M. Cover Retreat, Lawyering for Civil Rights in the 21st Century, Peterborough, N.H., Feb. 2014).
- John C. Brittain, Presentation, President Johnson’s War on Poverty and Neighborhood Legal Services Program: Providing Legal Access to Justice for the Poor (Mid-Atlantic People of Color Legal Scholarship Annual Conference, Baltimore, Md., Jan. 23, 2015).
- John C. Brittain, Board of Directors Meeting (Appleseed Foundation, D.C., Spring 2014).