Judith E. Schaeffer, a constitutional and civil rights attorney with particularly extensive experience in religious liberty and LGBT equality issues, has been named Legal Director of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. Schaeffer has been a member of PFAW and PFAWF’s Legal Departments since 1994 and served as Deputy Legal Director of both organizations from 1995 until December 2006, when she was named Associate Legal Director.
“Judith is an outstanding lawyer with a long and successful track record on the defining constitutional and civil rights issues of our day,” said People For the American Way and PFAWF President Ralph G. Neas. “She has provided leadership to our litigation and legal advocacy for many years. Judith’s work has already made a lasting impact on Americans’ rights and liberties, and I am confident that in her new position she will continue to be a forceful and effective advocate for the Constitution and the democratic values that it embodies and protects. We are very fortunate to have Judith as our new Legal Director.”
Among her many responsibilities, Schaeffer will be leading the organizations’ legal advocacy on behalf of the First Amendment. During her career at PFAWF, she has led its efforts to educate school officials about the rights of public school students and to challenge unconstitutional practices. She has litigated many of PFAWF’s most important cases, including Herdahl v. Pontotoc County School District, in that instance representing a courageous mother in rural Mississippi in a successful challenge to the broadcast of prayers over the intercom of her children’s public school during the school day, and the teaching of religious Bible courses as part of the school curriculum. Schaeffer was also the primary author of a People For the American Way Foundation investigative report, The Good Book Taught Wrong, published in 2000, which exposed the unconstitutional manner in which the Bible was being taught about in Florida’s public high schools and which led Florida education officials to overhaul the state’s Bible courses completely.
Along with attorneys from Lambda Legal and the law firm of Irell & Manella, Schaeffer successfully represented students seeking to form a Gay-Straight Alliance in their public high school in California who were met with resistance from school officials and forced to file suit as a result. (Colin v. Orange Unified School District.) The court’s ruling in favor of the students was the first in the country to apply the federal Equal Access Act to protect a student club promoting acceptance of gay and lesbian youth and to require a school district to allow a GSA to meet on the same terms that it allows other high school non-curricular clubs to meet.
Schaeffer has also played a critical role in the work of PFAW and PFAWF to defend and preserve an independent federal judiciary. Among other things, she has been instrumental in evaluating appellate and Supreme Court nominees and, on behalf of PFAW, helping to oppose the confirmation of nominees to the federal bench who are not committed to protecting Americans’ constitutional rights and liberties and to preserving the legal and social justice progress of the past half century.
As Legal Director, Schaeffer will now be responsible for the development, supervision, and implementation of all of the litigation and non-litigation legal advocacy and program activities of PFAW and PFAWF, and she will continue to be a spokesperson for both organizations on a wide range of issues.
Schaeffer is a member of the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous lower federal courts. Before joining PFAW and PFAWF, Schaeffer was a litigation partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Dickstein, Shapiro & Morin. Schaeffer is a graduate of Yale Law School and a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University, and was a Winston Churchill Scholar at Cambridge University in England. After her graduation from law school, Schaeffer clerked for Chief Judge Joseph S. Lord III of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Schaeffer’s professional activities include service on the District of Columbia Bar Task Force on Sexual Orientation and the Legal Workplace (1995-1999) and on the Board of Directors of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (1991-1994) and the Board of Directors of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund (1986-1990). Schaeffer has been honored for her public interest work and is a recipient of, among other honors, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Attorney Appreciation Award, the Whitman-Walker Clinic Gene Frey Memorial Award for Community Service, and the Women’s Legal Defense Fund Volunteer Attorney Award.