"John Payton, Lawyer Who Fought for Civil Rights, Dies at 65," is the New York Times obituary written by Dennis Hevesi.
John Payton, who as president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund guided it to several major victories before the Supreme Court, died on Thursday in Baltimore. He was 65 and lived in Washington.
The cause had not yet been determined, said Lee Daniels, a spokesman for the fund.
Named president in 2008, Mr. Payton was the defense fund’s sixth leader since it became a separate entity from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1940. He had been active in the civil rights movement since his days at Pomona College in the 1960s.
In 2010, he was the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in Lewis v. City of Chicago, in which a group of African-Americans seeking to be firefighters contended that they had properly filed a charge of discrimination against the city.
Mr. Payton argued that the cutoff score on a written examination to define the pool of qualified applicants had a disparate impact on minorities — a contention to which the city conceded. But the city had successfully argued in lower courts that the discrimination charge was filed after a statute of limitations had passed. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower court ruling.
A year earlier, in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, a municipal district in Austin, Tex., challenged the validity of Section 5, a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The so-called pre-clearance clause requires government entities previously judged to have a history of discrimination to receive permission from the Justice Department before making substantive changes to the voting process in their districts. Mr. Payton assisted in the arguments leading to the Supreme Court’s 8-to-1 decision upholding Section 5.
In a statement on Friday, President Obama called Mr. Payton “a true champion of equality” who had “helped protect civil rights in the classroom and at the ballot box.”
“Democracy, at its core, requires that all of the people be included in ‘We the people,’ ” Mr. Payton said in a 2008 speech in Michigan. “For that inclusive democracy to function, it is essential that we see each other as peers.”
LDF has more on John Payton's life and work at its website.