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James E. Johnson Retires from Brennan Center Board

Today, James E. Johnson resigned from the Board of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law after a decade of leadership for Democracy and Justice.

October 28, 2016

Today, James E. Johnson resigned from the Board of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Johnson served as Chair of the Center’s board from 2004 to 2011. He first joined the Board in 2002.

“Jim Johnson is one of the nation’s most effective and respected leaders for social justice and sound policies,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center. “His passion for democracy and justice made a tremendous difference in the life of the Brennan Center. Under Jim’s leadership, the Center defended voting rights for millions, won critical victories for campaign finance reform, and led the fight for criminal justice policies that uphold the law, protect public safety, and respect the rights of communities of color.”

“The Brennan Center carries on the legacy of Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., a proud son of Newark. Justice Brennan believed that the law must above all protect ‘simple human dignity.’ Jim Johnson’s work carrying on Justice Brennan’s ideals has made an extraordinary difference, and we were fortunate to have his leadership,” said Robert A. Atkins and Patricia Bauman, co-chairs of the Center’s Board of Directors.

“Jim brought rare talents to his leadership of the Center. He combined high-level government service in law enforcement, keen legal skill as a leader of one of New York’s top law firms, and a singular passion for justice. We were very fortunate to have him,” Waldman added.

Johnson was elected Chair in 2004. Under his leadership, the Center’s impact, profile, and funding grew significantly. He partnered with Brennan Center staff on several important initiatives, including expanding our work to end mass incarceration.

Among his major achievements:

  • Johnson is a founder of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, which unites nearly 200 of the nation’s top law enforcement officials, as a powerful new voice for criminal justice reform. He serves on its steering committee.
  • He oversaw the launch of the Center’s initiative to end mass incarceration in 2012, which has become a national force for change. He led efforts to successfully persuade the U.S. Attorney General to change the way federal funds are used so they bolster drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration, while focusing on major and dangerous crimes.
  • Johnson represented, in Johnson v. Bush filed in 2000, 600,000 African-American citizens in Florida challenging the state’s permanent disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions, laws that were first crafted in the Jim Crow era. The case exposed the law’s racist roots and helped lead to major reforms in Florida.
  • Johnson led the Center’s strategic plan that enabled the organization to triple in size, open a Washington, D.C. office, and become one of the nations’ leading legal and policy organizations. In 2009 he accepted the John Jay Justice Award on the Center’s behalf from Chief Judge Judith Kaye at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
  • The Center’s Board created the James E. Johnson Fellowship for students to enable the Center to benefit from a diverse group of legal interns.

Johnson is currently of counsel at Debevoise & Plimpton, where he previously was a partner. In   additional to Johnson’s commitment to the Brennan Center, he has been commended for his work on white collar criminal defense by The Legal 500 US (2007) for his “calm and methodical demeanor” and “clear sense of high ethics and morals.”

Prior to joining the Brennan Center Board, Johnson held several senior positions in the United States Department of Treasury, including Under Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement (1998–2000) and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement (1996–1998). Prior to that, he served as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division in the Southern District of New York.