John Vail

John Vail

Of Counsel
Washington, District of Columbia
800-522-2715 (Toll Free)


I have extensive experience teaching substantive law, legal skills, and management skills. My audiences have ranged from experienced litigators and managers to lay advocates to support staff. I have designed as well as delivered training. I have regularly delivered management skills and advocacy training to staff members of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are visiting the United States as Fellows in exchange programs administered by Freedom House. My presentations consistently received “the highest praise” from those Fellows.


I have served on numerous boards and committees over the years. My activities have been primarily related to law, civil liberties, poverty policy, and the environment.

I was President of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia 2005-2010, having served on its board since moving to the state in 1997. I was President of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina in 1996 and 1997, having served on its board for four years prior to my Presidency.

I have been President of my local bar association and have served on the Council (governing body) of the Litigation Section of the North Carolina Bar Association. I have served on other state bar committees. I am a member of the American Bar Association and several of its sections.

I was a convener of the Poverty Task Force of the New Mexico Conference of Churches and of the Immigration Reform Act Task Force of Catholic Social Services in New Mexico.

I was a member of the North Carolina Education and Law Task Force, which gave birth to the North Carolina Education and Law Project.

I originated the idea for the North Carolina Budget and Tax Policy Center and I was a founding member of the board of directors of its parent organization, the North Carolina Justice and Community Development Center.

I have been a member of the Executive Committee of the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club and have been active in the club for over thirty years. I was the first chair of The Advisory Commission for South Mountains State Park. I was a founder of the South Mountains Coalition and I helped that organization become the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina. I have served on my local planning and zoning commission. I remember with great fondness my years of service on the board of directors of the Tennessee Environmental Council.

I am a member of the board of directors of the Velocity Bicycle Co-op, a not-for-profit organization devoted to promoting bicycling and community development, in part through refurbishing bicycles for donation to low-income persons and through employing low-income youth in bicycling-related activities.


Married, one adult child. Excellent health. Recreational interests include hiking and bicycling.

Areas of Practice

  • Constitutional Law
  • Litigation & Appeals
  • Complex Litigation
  • Federal Appellate Practice
  • Federal Trial Practice
  • State Appellate Practice
  • State Trial Practice
  • US Supreme Court
  • Personal Injury -- Plaintiff

Bar Admissions

  • Tennessee, 1979
  • New Mexico, 1985
  • North Carolina, 1989
  • District of Columbia, 1999
  • U.S. Supreme Court, 1986


  • Vanderbilt University School of Law, Nashville, Tennessee
    • JD - 1979
  • University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
    • AB - 1976

Published Works

  • Big Business Acts the Bully , National Law Journal, August 4th, 2008
  • The Real Issue Is Jurors’ Rights , National Law Journal, February 4th, 2008
  • Big Money v. The Framers, Yale L.J. (The Pocket Part) , December, 2005
  • Discrimination in Education: Some Thoughts on American Law and Experience, European Roma Rights Center (Budapest), , 2004
  • The Invisible Constitution (Review of Eponymous Book by Laurence H. Tribe), 45 TRIAL 4, April, 2009
  • Blame It on the Bee Gees: The Attack on Trial Lawyers and Civil Justice, 51 N.Y.L Sch. L. Rev.323, 2006
  • Courts Resist Calls for Intervention in Physician Expert Testimony, 19 California Litigation 3, 2006
  • The Menace of Mandatory Arbitration, 41 TRIAL 8, August, 2005
  • Justice in Plainclothes: A Theory of American Constitutional Practice (Review of Eponymous Book by Lawrence Sager), 41 TRIAL 2, February, 2005
  • Chipping at the Core of Justice 40 TRIAL 28, April, 2004
  • State Courts Do the Work Federal Courts Can’t – and Shouldn’t, 40 TRIAL 68, January, 2004
  • The Inside the Beltway Mentality: Three Beliefs Are Poisoning Our Legal System, NCATL Trial Briefs, Dec, 2003
  • Access to Courts and Choice of Forum, NLADA Federal Litigation Manual, 2003
  • Civil Rights Now, 38 TRIAL 59, September, 2002
  • A Common Lawyer Looks at State Constitutions, 32 Rutgers L.J. 977, Summer, 2001
  • Defeating Mandatory Arbitration Clauses, 36 TRIAL 70, January, 2000
  • Six Questions in Light of J. McIntyre v. Nicastro, 63 S.C. L. Rev. 517, 2012
  • Supreme Court Review: Mandatory Arbitration Revisited 48 Trial 1, January, 2012
  • The People Shall Judge, ATLA Docket, Summer, 2010
  • A Closer Look at State Constitutions (Review of The Law of American State Constitutions by Robert F. Williams), 46 TRIAL 6;, June, 2010

Representative Cases

Professional Associations and Memberships

  • American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, Board Member

Past Employment Positions

  • John Vail Law, PLLC, 2013
  • Center for Constitutional Litigation, P.C., Vice President and Senior Litigation Counsel, 2002 - 2013
  • The George Washington University Law School, Professorial Lecturer in Law, 2007 - 2009
  • Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Senior Counsel and Associate Director for Constitutional Litigation, 1998 - 2001
  • Center for Law and Education, Staff Attorney, 1997 - 1998
  • Catawba Valley Legal Services, Inc, Executive Director, 1990 - 1997
  • Catawba Valley Legal Services, Inc, Litigation Director, 1988 - 1990
  • Center for Defense of Human Rights, Budapest, Hungary, 1995
  • New Mexico Legal Services Support Project, Project Director, 1984 - 1988
  • Legal Services of Upper East Tennessee, Inc., Attorney, Senior Attorney, and Litigation Director, 1980 - 1984
  • National Labor Relations Board, Trial Attorney, 1980


  • French