Janai S. Nelson
Janai S. Nelson, Professor of Law, Associate Dean of Faculty Scholarship, and Associate Director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development, joined the faculty of St. John’s University School of Law in 2006. Professor Nelson is 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 education.
Professor Nelson’s scholarship centers on domestic and comparative election law, race, and democratic theory. 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. 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 the equal protection clause in reconsidering the constitutionality of felon disfranchisement in the United States. In addition to conducting research on election law and voting rights issues, Professor Nelson teaches Election Law and Political Participation, Comparative Election Law, Voting Rights, Professional Responsibility, and Constitutional Law.
In the year prior to joining 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 the advancement of democracy in Ghana. Her research as a Fulbright Scholar is the basis of a publication entitled, Fair 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). 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. Dretke.
Professor Nelson began practicing law as a litigation associate at the law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and was the recipient of an NAACP LDF/Fried Frank Fellowship. She received a B.A. from New York University and a J.D. from UCLA School of Law. 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 and is a contributor to Thomson Reuters and Huffington Post. Professor Nelson has also appeared on CNN, InsideOut, Bronxnet Community Television, public radio and in other media as an election law expert and regularly speaks at conferences and symposia nationwide.