Hampton University student from a middle-class neighborhood whose boyfriend was the head of a drug ring.
Over a four-year period, the LDF appealed the case repeatedly in an effort to demonstrate to the court what the prosecution had initially disclosed — Smith never used or sold drugs.
With Jones’ extensive background and broad array of cases, she has earned a reputation as a skillful negotiator and an ardent voice for those who have been shut out of the economic, political, and social mainstream. “Some of the most important cases you can have are those that affect people’s lives — whether people
live or die,” she says. “And those are the cases that affect the quality of life.” — Marcia A. WadeJOHN PAYTON
Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering
John Payton was a law student at Harvard when Regents of the University of California v. Bakke was being litigated. “We were all on edge waiting for the verdict in that case,” recalls Payton. In 1978, the Supreme Court handed down its decision, upholding the use of race in college admissions.
Now 25 years later, Payton has litigated two landmark cases, successfully defending the University of Michigan’s use of race in the admissions process at its undergraduate college (Gratz v. Bollinger) and at its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). A partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington, D.C., Payton was lead counsel for the two cases in the trial court and in the court of appeals. He argued Gratz v. Bollinger in the Supreme Court.
During the compelling proceedings, it was a “battle of semantics,” says Payton, who challenged whether it was the court’s job to tell the university what to do or the university’s job to devise an admissions program that relied on individualized assessment.
Throughout his career, Payton has played pivotal roles in some of the most significant civil rights cases in recent history. He was chief counsel in the Supreme Court case Richmond v. Croson, and he filed numerous amicus briefs including Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, an employment discrimination case, and Adarand Constructors v. Pena, a case involving the constitutionality of federal affirmative action programs. The former Washington, D.C. Bar president also served as corporation counsel for the District of Columbia.
A native of Los Angeles, the 56-year-old Payton says he was extremely active in the black student union movement during the 1970s. “I have always been interested in racial issues, social justice, and civil rights in some context.”
— Carolyn M. BrownJulius L. Chambers
Ferguson, Stein, Chambers, Adkins, Gresham & Sumter
Career Highlights: Chambers founded the state of North Carolina’s first integrated law firm. Formerly, Chambers served as chancellor of North Carolina Central University and the director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Chambers earned law degrees from Columbia University in New York City and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Power Play: Chambers has been winning landmark Supreme Court rulings in employment discrimination and education since the ’70s, including the famous school busing case resulting in the desegregation of Charlotte’s schools.
Equal Justice Society