Jim Johnson is a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. Prior to joining the Brennan Center, he was a partner at the global law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, from which he retired to become a candidate in the Democratic primary for Governor of the state of New Jersey. He remains Of Counsel to the firm.
While a partner at Debevoise, Jim had extensive engagements in the public interest. In 2007, New Jersey Governor Corzine asked him to lead the Advisory Committee for Police Standards which was established to address the issue of racial profiling by state and local law enforcement. Over the course of two years, the Committee held public hearings throughout the state and developed the foundation for the Police Standards Act of 2009. In 2010, the United States District Court appointed him to be federal monitor in a fair housing settlement between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Westchester County.
Jim is a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University and, for more than a decade, served as a member of the Board of the Brennan Center. His time on the board included seven years as chair. He also engaged in the work of the Brennan Center, serving as co-counsel in Johnson v. Bush, an effort to restore full voting rights to a class of more than 600,000 African American men who had been disenfranchised because of their felony convictions. He also served as co-counsel in three challenges to voter purges in Florida and Colorado.
Between 1990 and 2000, Jim worked in the US Departments of Justice and the Treasury. At the Department of Justice, he was an Assistant United States Attorney and rose to be Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division. In 1996, he was confirmed by the Senate to be the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement and, in 1998, he was confirmed to succeed Ray Kelly as Under Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement. As such, he led the Treasury Enforcement bureaus, which including the ATF, the Secret Service and the US Customs Service. As Under Secretary, Jim led the efforts to close the gun show loophole that enabled gun buyers to avoid background checks. He also co-chaired the National Church Arson Task Force that was launched to confront the rash of arsons at black churches in the south and developed the strategy to unravel the largest money laundering system in the Western Hemisphere.
He is the lead author of Atlantic City: Building A Foundation for Shared Prosperity (2018), a report produced for New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.
Jim is a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He clerked for Federal District Judge Robert E. Keeton before beginning his practice in 1987.