Howard University

John C. Brittain Bio

Chief Counsel and Senior Deputy Director
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

John C. Brittain, a native of Norwalk, Connecticut, is a product of its public schools. Brittain earned his B.A. and J.D degrees from Howard University in 1966 and 1969, respectively. Upon graduation, he moved to Mississippi to practice civil rights law. He then traveled to the Far West Coast to create his own small law firm with a partner in San Francisco. After eight years of civil rights and private law practice experience, Brittain heeded the call to teach law, and joined the faculty at the University of Connecticut Law School. He remained in Hartford on the UConn Law School faculty for two decades while developing a special expertise in international and domestic human rights as a public interest advocate and author of published articles. He specializes in civil rights litigation theories in education, voting rights, affirmative action, affordable housing, and police misconduct.

In August of 1999, Brittain accepted the position as dean of Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. He quickly recognized the tremendous opportunity to help shape the future of this proud historically Black law school. After three years as the head of one of the most diverse law schools in the nation that trains a significant number of African American and Latino lawyers, Brittain resigned as dean in May 2002. He returned to his passion for teaching and scholarship as a tenured member of the faculty at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. During his three-year tenure, Brittain restored stability after four and a half years of interim deans, was instrumental in increasing the admissions profile of entering students, and raised nearly three-quarters of a million dollars for educational programs.

Next, after nearly three decades in legal education, Brittain decided to return to his professional roots in public interest litigation. In March 2005, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a forty-one year old civil rights legal organization, appointed Brittain Chief Counsel and Senior Deputy Director of its national office in Washington, DC. As Chief Counsel, he is responsible for determining civil rights litigation strategies and public policy issues.

Brittain has devoted much of his time to public service in numerous leadership roles; his most notable, being that of President of the National Lawyers Guild, from 1991 to 1993. Currently, he is a member of the National Bar Association. He is a former member of the Executive Committee of the National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a Senior Fellow in the American Leadership Forum and a member of the Teach for America – Houston Advisory Board. Further in the past, he has served as legal counsel to the Connecticut Conference of the NAACP; Chairperson of the Hartford Charter Revision Commission; Chairperson of the Hartford Human Rights Commission; Chairperson of the ACLU Academic Freedom Committee, and a long time member of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. Further, Brittain was member of the Board of Directors of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the eighth largest community foundation, which had $550 million in assets, and it distributed nearly $26 million in grants for charitable purposes in 1999.

Brittain is a school desegregation specialist and one of the lawyers who filed the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation case in 1989. This lawsuit challenged the racial, economic, and educational segregation between Hartford and the surrounding school districts as a denial of a student’s fundamental right to an equal education under the Connecticut Constitution. The Connecticut Supreme Court issued a precedent setting ruling in July 1996. A majority of justices found that the extreme racial and ethnic isolation of African American and Latino students denied the schoolchildren in Hartford their fundamental right to an equal educational opportunity.

Brittain was frequently mentioned in the book, “The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial,” (2007) by Susan Eaton, an excellent chronicle of the Sheff case. In addition, Brittain served on a legal team that filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the NAACP in the People Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education (Louisville) school cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court (2007) concerning voluntary race-conscious student assignment plans.

At the higher educational level, Brittain was trained by his mentor, the late Professor Herbert O. Reid, the Charles Hamilton Houston Professor Law at Howard University, to pursue comparability and competitiveness for historically Black colleges and universities.

Further, this court became the only one to hold the State responsible for de facto segregation. In declaring the district boundary lines that separate urban and suburban school districts unconstitutional, the court placed an affirmative obligation on the legislature and governor to initially remedy the problem.

Shortly after the coup d’etat in Haiti in 1991, Brittain accompanied former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark on a visit to the island nation to investigate human rights conditions. He continues to frequently speak about human rights and democracy throughout the world. In fact, Brittain has investigated conditions in Northern Ireland, Israel and the Palestine Territories, Nicaragua, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Spain.

In 1993, the NAACP awarded Professor Brittain the coveted William Robert Ming Advocacy Award for legal service to the NAACP without a fee. The Ming award was named in honor of a former African American law professor at the University of Chicago and a brilliant civil rights lawyer. Further the Texas Bar Association awarded Brittain and a fellow faculty colleague the Gavel Award 204 for outstanding service to the community in their weekly radio newsmagazine show entitled, “That’s The Law,” broadcast on KSTU 90.0 FM radio, an NPR affiliate.

Dean Brittain and his wife, Sondra, have been married for thirty-nine years, and they have two adult children, Karim and Kensei.

Brittain has been a vegetarian for thirty years and a competitive runner and tennis player. He enjoys reading books and sailing.