Obituaries

NAACP Legal Defense Fund Leader John Payton Dies at 65


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John Payton

John Payton, the leader of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has died at the age of 65.

Payton, president and director-counsel of the LDF, was the sixth leader of the civil rights law firm, according to a memorial post on the group’s website. A different online release says he was the group’s seventh leader. His victories included:

Lewis v. City of Chicago, in which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed African Americans to challenge Chicago’s firefighter test.

Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder, in which the U.S. Supreme Court turned aside a challenge to a preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act without ruling on its constitutionality.

President Obama released a statement on Payton’s death, calling him a dear friend. “John led the organization’s involvement in five Supreme Court cases,” Obama said. “A true champion of equality, he helped protect civil rights in the classroom and at the ballot box. The legal community has lost a legend, and while we mourn John’s passing, we will never forget his courage and fierce opposition to discrimination in all its forms.”

In a statement, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous called Payton “one of the greatest civil rights lawyers our nation has ever had and our world has ever known.”

Payton formerly headed the litigation department at WilmerHale and was former Corporation Counsel for the District of Columbia.

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