John F. Kowal

Vice President for Programs

John F. Kowal is Vice President for Programs at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, where he is responsible for coordinating and guiding the organization’s programs on Democracy, Justice and Liberty and National Security. John also oversees the organization’s Washington, D.C. office.

Before joining the Brennan Center, John was a leader in the philanthropic sector on issues of democracy, justice and human rights. From 1997-2008, John worked at the Open Society Institute, most recently as Director of Constitutional Democracy Initiatives. There, he developed and directed grantmaking programs to safeguard a fair and impartial judiciary and to build the infrastructure of legal groups advancing a progressive vision of U.S. constitutional law. He also created OSI’s LGBT Rights grantmaking program and was an early leader in funding marriage equality efforts.

From 2008-2011, John directed the Ford Foundation’s units on Democratic and Accountable Government and Democratic Participation, where he was responsible for the oversight and strategic direction of five grantmaking initiatives, operating in the U.S. and in ten field offices around the world. These included initiatives to support grassroots organizing, advance electoral reform, promote effective and accountable government, reform the global financial system and strengthen civil society around the world.

John was also actively engaged within the philanthropic community, serving on the steering committees of key foundation affinity groups, including the International Human Rights Funders Group, Human Rights in the US Working Group, Funders Committee for Civic Participation and the Civil Marriage Collaborative, which he helped to found.

John began his career as a litigation associate in two prominent New York City law firms, Cravath Swaine & Moore and Schulte Roth & Zabel, where he handled a wide range of civil and regulatory litigation, including contract, energy, securities, insurance, antitrust and mergers and acquisitions matters. He is a graduate of New York University and Harvard Law School.