John Payton Left a Lasting Mark
The late civil rights attorney's influence helped his colleagues be better advocates.
At LDF, John led us masterfully through many brief-drafting and speech-writing efforts, moot courts, high-level meetings with the administration, settlement negotiations and training opportunities. And he did so, on each occasion, with a passion for our clients' interests and an eye toward making us better, sharper advocates.
As an important oral argument approached, I recall John asking me to tell him the question that I was "most worried about," adding, "that is the question that I'll ask you at the next moot and then you will welcome, not fear, it during the argument." He asked the hard questions and helped us craft the most compelling answers.
Because he always believed in his LDF team, we consistently believed in ourselves. Although John ran his leg of the race at full speed, he made sure that he passed the baton so that we would share in and grow from the experience.
There is a straight line between John Payton and LDF's legendary founders. He died in Baltimore, more than 100 years after Thurgood Marshall's birth in that same city. Many of John's accomplishments would have been career-defining, but the core of his genius was how he personified Charles Hamilton Houston. Like his predecessors, John committed himself to building a cadre of civil rights lawyers dedicated to the fight for equality in America and he relished doing it. He deeply enjoyed the years he spent as LDF's director-counsel.
We at the Legal Defense Fund honor John Payton by continuing the painstaking work of our democracy's founding promise to forge "a more perfect union." This is the work that our nation still requires, and is the work that John prepared us so well to do.
Debo Adegbile is the director of litigation for the NAACP LDF.