Janai S. Nelson is a Professor of Law, Associate Dean of Faculty
Scholarship, and Associate Director of the Ronald H. Brown Center
for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s University
School of Law. Professor Nelson is also the recipient of the 2013
Derrick A. Bell Award from the American Association of Law Schools
(AALS) Section on Minority Groups. The award is presented each year
to a junior faculty member who has made an extraordinary
contribution through scholarship, teaching, and mentoring. She was
also recently named one of Lawyers of Color’s
50 Under 50 minority professors making an impact in legal
In addition to conducting research on election law and voting
rights issues, she teaches Election Law and Political
Participation, Comparative Election Law, Voting Rights, and
Professional Responsibility. In the year before she joined St.
John's, Professor Nelson was a Fulbright Scholar at the Legal
Resources Center in Accra, Ghana, where she researched the
political disfranchisement of persons with criminal convictions and
what it portends for the advancement of democracy in Ghana. Her
research as a Fulbright Scholar is the basis of a publication
Measure of the Right to Vote: A Comparative Perspective of Voting
Rights Enforcement in a Maturing Democracy,18 Cardozo J. Comp.
& Int'l 425 (2010). Her article, The
First Amendment, Equal Protection, and Felon Disfranchisement: A
New Viewpoint, 64 Fl. L. Rev. 111 (2013), explores the
intersection of the First Amendment and equal protection clause in
reconsidering the constitutionality of felon disfranchisement.
Professor Nelson’s most recent publication, The Causal Context of
Disparate Vote Denial_54 B.C. L. Rev. 579 (2013), examines
Section 2 of Voting Rights Act as a disparate impact standard and
the racial dimensions of modern vote denial.
Prior to receiving the Fulbright award,
Professor Nelson was the Director of Political Participation at the
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. ("LDF") where
she oversaw all voting related litigation and matters, litigated
voting rights and redistricting cases, and worked on criminal
justice issues on behalf of African Americans and other
under-served communities. At LDF, she argued en banc before the
Second Circuit and served as lead counsel in Hayden v.
Pataki, a felon disfranchisement case that challenges New York
State laws that deny the right to vote to people who are
incarcerated and on parole for a felony conviction. She was
also part of the team of civil rights attorneys representing
African- and Haitian-American voters in NAACP v. Hood (the
class action suit that arose out of the 2000 general elections) and
one of the counsel representing the death row inmate whose sentence
was commuted in 2003 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Banks v.
Professor Nelson began practicing law as a
litigation associate at the law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris,
Shriver & Jacobson and was the 1998 recipient of the NAACP
LDF/Fried Frank Fellowship. She received a B.A. from New York
University in 1993 and a J.D. from UCLA School of Law in 1996. Upon
graduating from law school, Professor Nelson clerked for the
Honorable Theodore McMillian on the United States Court of Appeals
for the Eighth Circuit (1997-1998) and the Honorable David H. Coar
on the United States District Court for the Northern District of
Illinois (1996-1997). While in law school, she served as Articles
Editor of the UCLA Law Review, Consulting Editor of the National
Black Law Journal, and Associate Editor of the UCLA Women's Law
Journal. She has been published on issues of domestic and
comparative election law, democracy, race, and criminal justice.
Professor Nelson has also appeared on CNN,
Bronxnet Community Television,
public radio and in other media as an election law expert and
regularly speaks at conferences and symposia nationwide.