John C. Brittain was appointed Acting Dean of the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law in July 2018. He joined the UDC Law faculty in 2009 as a tenured professor of law. He had previously 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.
Dean 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. Dean 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.
Dean 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. Dean 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 Dean 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.
Dean 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.