Charles Hamilton Houston Chair
B.A., Howard University
J.D., Howard University
John C. Brittain is a tenured professor of law at the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law. In the past, he served as dean of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in Houston, a veteran law professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law for twenty-two years and the Chief Counsel and Senior Deputy Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, DC, a public interest legal organization started by President John F. Kennedy to enlist private lawyers to take pro bono cases in civil rights.
He also has been the president of the National Lawyers’ Guild, a member of the Executive Committee and the Board of the ACLU, a long-time member of the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) and legal counsel to NAACP at the local level and national office of the General Counsel. 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 who closely worked with Thurgood Marshall.
He is an education law specialist and one of the original counsel in Sheff v. O’Neill, a landmark school desegregation case decided by the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1996. He was frequently mentioned in the book, “The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial,” by Susan Eaton, an excellent chronicle of the Sheff case. In addition, Brittain was a part 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 U.S. Supreme Court (2007) concerning voluntary race-conscious student assignment plans. Further, he filed a friend of the court brief in the Connecticut adequacy finance lawsuit styled, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell (2010), another landmark case that recognized such a right under the education clause of the Connecticut Constitution. In one other related area, Brittain has concentrated on the intersection between housing and school segregation, and the policies that contribute to the condition of structural poverty in low income and neighborhoods of color.
At the higher educational level, his mentor, the late Professor Herbert O. Reid, the Charles Hamilton Houston Distinguished Professor Law at Howard University, trained Brittain to pursue comparability and competitiveness for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Indeed, he earned a BA (1966) and JD (1969) from Howard University. He is admitted to practice in Connecticut, Mississippi, California and associated federal courts. He is currently a part of a legal team representing private plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the defendant State of Maryland denying the historically black institutions of higher learning – Morgan, Coppin, Bowie and Maryland Eastern Shore Universities, comparable and competitive opportunities with traditional white universities. Still further, he is a co-counsel on an amicus brief filed in the Supreme Court on behalf of thirty-eight Texas legislators in the case, Fisher v. Texas, the latest challenge to race-conscious affirmative action admissions policies in higher education.
In the field of philanthropy, Brittain served on the Board of Directors of the Hartford Community Foundation. He is the current Chairperson of the Norflet Fund Cy Pres, a charitable organization created by a settlement in a lawsuit involving John Hancock 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.
Finally, his numerous publications have focused on civil and human rights, and he is a frequent dynamic public speaker. In addition, he has participated in filing nearly a dozen briefs in the Supreme Court.
He has traveled extensively throughout the world on international human rights investigations in Africa, Central America, the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and further to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
He loves reading books, sailing and enjoys a national ranking for masters runners in his age group. Like the comedian and activist, Dick Gregory, Brittain is a vegetarian – he eats no meats, fish or fowl.