John C. Brittain
Olie W. Rauh 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, and served as Acting Dean from 2018 to 2019. Prior to joining UDC Law, he 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.
Professor 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 Thurgood Marshall.
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).