UCLA School of Law alumna Janai Nelson ’96, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, will deliver the commencement address at the law school’s ceremony on May 13.
Nelson, a member of the UCLA Law Class of 1996, joined the NAACP in 2014 and was elevated to her role at the top of the country’s preeminent civil rights law organization earlier this year. Occupying a position that was once held by Thurgood Marshall, Nelson is a national leader in the fight for racial justice and equality. During the term of immediate past president and director-counsel Sherrilyn Ifill, Nelson served as associate director-counsel and led challenges to a Texas voter ID law and President Trump’s executive order that banned diversity, equity, and inclusion training, among many other landmark legal endeavors.
Nelson is also a distinguished author and scholar of voting rights, election law, and race, with articles published in leading journals including the NYU Law Review and Columbia Law Review. In her previous tenure at St. John’s University School of Law, she served as a professor, dean for faculty scholarship, and associate director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development. She also served as a Fulbright Scholar in Ghana. In 2013, Nelson earned the Derrick A. Bell Award from the Association of American Law Schools minority groups section.
Read the UCLA Law magazine Q&A with Nelson.
Nelson earned her undergraduate degree from New York University. At UCLA Law, she worked 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. After law school, she clerked for Judge David H. Coar on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and Judge Theodore McMillian on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In 1998, Nelson received an NAACP LDF/Fried Frank Fellowship.
UCLA Law’s 71st commencement ceremony will be the first in-person graduation event to be held at the law school since 2019, due to the restrictions of the pandemic. It will take place on Dickson Court North on Friday, May 13, at 3:30 p.m., and there is no limit on the number of guests who may attend. For more information, visit the UCLA Law commencement page.