Judith Browne Dianis W'87
Judith Browne Dianis has an extensive background in civil rights litigation and advocacy in the areas of voting, education, policing, housing, and employment. She has protected the rights of people of color in the midst of some of the greatest civil rights crises of our modern times, including in Florida after the 2000 election and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Known as the Godmother of the movement to end the school-to-prison pipeline, under Dianis’ leadership, Advancement Project has done pioneering work in building and strengthening a grassroots movement to end harsh discipline that pushes out children of color and criminalizes them. Dianis has authored groundbreaking reports on the issue including: Opportunities Suspended (2000) and Derailed: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, detailing the unnecessary criminalization of students by their schools. Working closely with grassroots organizations, Advancement Project’s work has significantly decreased student suspensions and arrests in Denver, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Florida.
Recently, Dianis and her team at Advancement Project have joined forces with the Journey for Justice Alliance, an alliance of grassroots groups in 22 cities, to challenge the growing trend of public school closures and privatization in communities of color. This cutting edge work has included filing civil rights complaints in Chicago, Newark and New Orleans. Dianis’ commitment to racial equity in public schools carries over to her position as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of FairTest, which challenges the misuse of standardized testing. In recognition of Dianis’ work on these issues, she was named a Black Male Achievement Social Innovator by the Leadership & Sustainability Institute.
Dianis’ efforts to protect voters of color spans years of dedication. From filing one of the first-ever lawsuits to enforce the “Motor Voter” law to litigating on behalf of Black Floridians after the 2000 election, Dianis has established herself as an expert in voting rights. She continued her litigation efforts in 2004, stopping the Republican National Committee from engaging in voter suppression in Ohio and requiring Virginia in 2008 to ensure equitable allocation of voting machines. As Advancement Project has continued its aggressive voter protection efforts effectively blocking voter suppression efforts in 2012, Dianis has also been leading an effort to develop a campaign to secure an explicit right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. In 2013, she was awarded a Prime Movers Fellowship for trailblazing social movement leaders to further develop this campaign.
Dianis joined Advancement Project at its inception in 1999, after serving as the Managing Attorney in the Washington, D.C. office of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. She is a graduate of Columbia University School of Law, was awarded a Skadden Fellowship, served as a Tobias Simon Eminent Scholar at Florida State University Law School, and as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. She was named one of the “Thirty Women to Watch” by Essence Magazine and has written and commented extensively in the media about race, voting rights, and education issues, appearing often on MSNBC, CNN, BET, TVOne and various radio shows.