James Nabrit III, 80, a civil rights lawyer who argued several prominent cases involving education and free speech before the U.S. Supreme Court from the 1960s to the 1980s, died Friday, March 22, of lung cancer at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md., said Elaine Jones, the former president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where Nabrit worked for 30 years.
Mr. Nabrit's most noteworthy case may have been Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver (1973). It was the first school-desegregation case to reach the Supreme Court from a state that did not have segregation laws.
The court agreed with Nabrit's argument that de facto segregation in Denver left minority students with inferior facilities and staff members, thus denying the students equal opportunity to a good education.
"He really was one of the greatest lawyers in the civil rights movement," Ted Shaw, a former president and director general of the Legal Defense Fund, said Tuesday. "Jim was . . . partly responsible for bringing civil rights law out of the darkness. He had a profound effect on the law."