FacultyFaculty/Author Profile

Christina Swarns

NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.
Director of Litigation
New York, NY, USA

As the Litigation Director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., Christina Swarns oversees all aspects of LDF’s litigation in its four key practice areas: economic justice, education, political participation and criminal justice. In that capacity, Christina conceptualizes and evaluates new cases and campaigns, reviews and edits all substantive briefs, assists with preparation for oral arguments, and provides overall supervision for the legal staff. Christina also strategically engages the media through the development of messaging themes, press releases, talking points, letters to the editor, op-eds, and other communications vehicles.

Christina has served as Lead Counsel in the litigation of significant impact cases, including Texas v. Duane Buck (challenging a Texas death-sentence that was the product of explicit racial bias), Mumia Abu-Jamal v. Secretary (Pennsylvania death sentence for “world’s most famous death row prisoner” vacated based on improper instruction to sentencing jury), Rosales v. Quarterman (Texas capital murder conviction and death sentence vacated based on intentional discrimination in jury selection by Harris County District Attorney’s Office), Commonwealth v. Whitney (Pennsylvania death sentence vacated based on finding of “mental retardation”), Roper v. Simmons (amicus brief addressing racial discrimination in the administration of the death penalty for child offenders to support abolition of such sentences) and Wilson v. Horn (Pennsylvania capital murder conviction and death sentence vacated based on intentional discrimination in jury selection by Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office).

Christina was previously the Director of LDF’s Criminal Justice Project, where she analyzed, developed and implemented litigation, organizing, public education, communications  and other advocacy strategies to ensure that the American criminal justice system is administered fairly and without regard to race such that all communities receive fair and appropriate police protection and that all individuals charged with or convicted of crimes are afforded the safeguards guaranteed by the constitution.

As a nationally recognized expert on issues of race and criminal justice, Christina participates in committees, advisory panels, strategic convenings, conferences and national media interviews (including PBS News Hour (and here), MSNBC, and Democracy Now). She was profiled by the ABA Journal (Terry Carter, Lady of the Last Chance: Lawyer Makes Her Mark Getting Convicts Off  Death Row, The ABA Journal, August 1, 2012), the Washington Post (Lonnae O’Neal Parker,  Defense Lawyer Fights Racism in Death Row Cases, The Washington Post, January 31, 2013), and in “Ces Femmes Qui Portent La Robe – Femmes Engages, Femmes de Réseau” (“These Women Who Wear the Robe – Women Engaged, Women Networking”), a 2013 book by Christiane Féral-Schuhl, Immediate Past President of the Paris, France, Bar Association, for her successful representation of condemned prisoners. In 2014, Christina was selected by the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School to be an Honorary Fellow in Residence, an honor given to an attorney who makes “significant contributions to the ends of justice at the cost of great personal risk and sacrifice.”

During her tenure as Director of LDF’s Criminal Justice Project, Christina litigated other such significant impact cases as Davis v. NYC (challenging the New York City Police Department’s unlawful pattern and practice of indiscriminately stopping, questioning and arresting Black and Latino New York City Housing Authority residents and guests for purportedly trespassing), State of Mississippi v. Brister (life without parole sentence for child offender vacated), Miller v. Alabama (amicus brief addressing racial discrimination in the origins of juvenile life without parole sentencing to support abolition of such sentences), Maples v. Thomas (amicus brief urging a constitutional right to effective assistance of post-conviction counsel in capital cases), Graham v. Florida (amicus brief addressing the challenges faced by children navigating the criminal justice system to support abolition of juvenile life without parole sentencing for non-homicide offenders), and Berghuis v. Smith (amicus brief addressing requirements for jury fair cross-section challenge).

Christina conceptualized and implemented an expansion of the Criminal Justice Project to include organizing capacity in order to deepen LDF’s capacity to achieve long term systemic change and more effectively engage the African-American community in identifying problems and developing/implementing reforms. She developed public education events and materials including LDF’s Annual Capital Punishment Training Conference (“Airlie”), the LDF/Columbia Law School 2007 Symposium, Pursuing Racial Fairness in Criminal Justice: 20 Years After McCleskey v. Kemp, multiple informational fact-sheets, and LDF’s authoritative report, No Chance to Make it Right:  Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentencing in Mississippi.

Prior to joining LDF, Christina served as a Supervising Assistant Federal Defender and Assistant Federal Defender at the Capital Habeas Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia’s Federal Court Division. While there, Christina represented numerous death- sentenced prisoners whose convictions and/or death-sentences were reversed, including Nicholas Yarris, the first death row prisoner in Pennsylvania to be exonerated by DNA evidence. She was also a Staff Attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Division in New York.

Christina earned a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a B.A. from Howard University.


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