John’s Resume


  • AB, 1976, University of Chicago
  • JD, 1979, Vanderbilt University


State Courts

  • Tennessee, 1979
  • New Mexico, 1985
  • North Carolina, 1989
  • District of Columbia, 1999

Federal Courts

  • Supreme Court, 1986
  • Numerous District and Circuit courts


October, 2013 – Present

John Vail Law, PLLC – I am the proprietor of this law firm providing an appellate voice for trial lawyers, concentrating on complex motion and appellate practice.

Of Counsel, Fay & Kaplan – I am proud to have a regular relationship with this small plaintiffs’ firm that represents victims of terrorism. My work with Fay & Kaplan focuses on securing justice for service members and their families affected by the bombings of Marine barracks in Beirut and U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

January, 2002 – October, 2013

Center for Constitutional Litigation, P.C. – Vice President and Senior Litigation Counsel – I was an original member of this national law firm that represents clients, including the American Association for Justice (prior to December 2006, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) in constitutional matters that affect access to justice.  For my “outstanding work and success challenging the constitutionality of legislation limiting injury victims’ access to justice” I received the Public Justice Achievement Award from Trial Lawyers for Public Justice in the summer of 2001.

Through this work I came to be regarded as an expert on civil procedure and federal jurisdiction. I advised AAJ advocates and briefed members of Congress on these issues.  I regularly represented the interests of the plaintiffs’ bar before the civil rules advisory committee of the federal courts.

August, 2007 – December, 2009

The George Washington University Law School – Professorial Lecturer in Law – I taught a seminar in Public Interest Lawyering.

July, 1998 – December, 2001

Association of Trial Lawyers of America – Senior Counsel and Associate Director for Constitutional Litigation – I represented the interests of ATLA in major cases involving constitutional issues, particularly the right of access to courts and the right to trial by jury. I prepared amicus briefs in state and federal litigation, primarily before state supreme courts and the United States Supreme Court. I was responsible for original litigation challenging unconstitutional restrictions on access to civil justice. I prepared opinions that helped ATLA leaders shape organizational policies.

February, 1997 – June, 1998

Center for Law and Education – Staff Attorney. I was responsible for legislative and administrative advocacy on issues affecting educational and civil rights. I dealt regularly with the United States Congress, the Department of Education, and the White House. I also worked as a consultant to community-based organizations seeking to restructure high schools to improve student achievement.

April, 1988 to February 1997

Catawba Valley Legal Services, Inc. – Executive Director (February 1990 through February 1997) and Litigation Director (April 1988 through January 1990). I was responsible for overall management of a rural legal services program. I closely managed all legal work and maintained an active caseload. The program gained, among clients, peers, bench, and bar, a reputation for innovative, high-quality advocacy. In 1994 I received from Legal Services of North Carolina the inaugural Denison Ray Award for “inspired vision and outstanding leadership.” In 1997 I was recognized by the North Carolina legal services community for “tireless devotion as a champion for the rights of low income people.”

March, 1995 through June, 1995

Center for Defense of Human Rights, Budapest, Hungary – On leave from CVLS, I served as a management consultant to this advocacy organization that operated in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. The National Forum Foundation and the German Marshall Fund of the United States supported my work.

October, 1984 to April, 1988

New Mexico Legal Services Support Project – Project Director. I directed delivery of support services – training, co-counseling, and coordination – to 23 Legal Services offices serving New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and nineteen pueblos. I co-counseled major litigation and represented clients in the legislature. I gained extensive experience designing and delivering training.

October, 1980 to September, 1984

Legal Services of Upper East Tennessee, Inc. – Attorney, Senior Attorney, and Litigation Director. I supervised legal work of seven paralegals and five attorneys. I litigated major cases and participated in major legislative and administrative advocacy. I specialized in public benefits and employment law.

February, 1980 to September, 1980

National Labor Relations Board. – Trial Attorney. I investigated and litigated unfair labor practice cases and drafted decisions in representation cases.


McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC, Docket No. M2019-00511-SC-R23-CV, Supreme Court of Tennessee (On Certified Questions from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at Nashville, District Court No. 3:17-cv-00705) pending (Counsel for Plaintiff).

Yebuah v Center for Urological Treatment, PLC, Docket No. M2018-01652-COA-R3-CV (COurt of Appeals of Tennessee, Middle District)(pending)(Counsel for Plaintiffs).
GGNSC Admin. Servs., LLC v. Schrader, 917 F.3d 20, 21 (1st Cir. 2019)(certifying question to Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court);  Docket No. SJC-12714, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (pending) (Counsel for Plaintiff).
Maalouf v. Islamic Republic of Iran, No. 18-7052, 2019 WL 2063565, at *1 (D.C. Cir. May 10, 2019)(Counsel for Bathiard plaintiffs)

Duckett-Murray v. Encompass Ins. Co., No. 1812 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Jan. 31, 2018)(Counsel for Plaintiff)

Owens v. BNP Paribas S.A., 235 F.Supp.3d 85 (D.D.C. 2017), affirmed Owens v. BNP Paribas, S.A., 897 F.3d 266, 268 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (Counsel for Plaintiffs)

Glenn v. Fay, 222 F.Supp.3d 31 (D.D.C. 2016)(Counsel for Defendant)

Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 220 F. Supp. 3d 98 (D.D.C. 2016)(Counsel for Plaintiffs) aff’d. per curiam (D.C. Cir. Feb. 16, 2018)

Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 224 F.Supp.3d 17 (D.D.C. 2016)(Counsel for Plaintiffs)

Owens v. Republic of Sudan, 174 F. Supp. 3d 242, 247 (D.D.C. 2016), affirmed in part, vacated in part, and question certified, 864 F.3d 751 (D.C. Cir. 2017), certified question answered, Republic of Sudan v. Owens, 194 A.3d 38, 39 (D.C. 2018); conforming opinion to answer of certified question, Owens v. Republic of Sudan, No. 14-5105, 2019 WL 2180333  (D.C. Cir. May 21, 2019); defendant’s petition for certiorari pending. (Counsel for Plaintiffs)

Landise v. Mauro, 141 A.3d 1067, 1069 (D.C. 2016)(Counsel for Defendant)

PETA v. USDA, 861 F.3d 502 (4th Cir. 2017)(Counsel for amicus law professor)

Lindeen v. SEC, 825 F.3d 646 (DC Cir. 2016) (counsel for amici Current and Former Members of Congress)

Security Healthcare LLC v. Boler, 135 S.Ct. 2379 (Mem.) (cert. denied)(Counsel of Record for respondent)

Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 135 S.Ct. 962 (Mem.) (cert. denied) (Counsel of Record for petitioners)

Owens v. Islamic Republic of Iran, D.C. Cir. No. 14-5105 (pending) (counsel for plaintiffs-appellees)

Allstate v. Jacobsen, 134 S.Ct. 2135 (Mem.)(cert. denied)(Counsel of Record for respondent)

Beverly Enterprises v. Ping, 133 S.Ct. 1996 (Mem.)(2013) (Counsel of Record for respondent)

American Express Company v. Italian Colors Restaurant, 133 S.Ct. 2304 (2013)(Counsel of Record for amicus AAJ)

Comcast v. Behrend, 133 S.Ct. 1426 (2013) (Counsel of Record for amicus AAJ)

Johnson v. Kindred Healthcare, Inc. 466 Mass. 779 (2014) (Counsel for plaintiffs)

Warr v. JMGM Group, LLC, 433 Md. 170 (2013)(Counsel for plaintiffs)

Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, 432 Md. 679 (Md. 2013) (Counsel for plaintiff)

CompuCredit v. Greenwood, 132 S.Ct. 665 (2012) (Counsel of Record for amicus AAJ

J.McIntyre v. Nicastro, 131 S.Ct. 2780 (2011) (counsel for respondents, principal author of respondents’ merit brief)

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes,131 S.Ct. 2541 (2011) (Counsel of Record for amicus AAJ)

Witt ex rel. Estate of Witt v. U.S., 131 S.Ct. 3058 (Mem) (cert. denied) (Counsel of Record for amicus AAJ)

Zuress v. Donley, 131 S.Ct. 3056 (Mem) (2011) (cert. denied) (Counsel of Record for amicus AAJ)

AT&T Mobility LLC v Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011)(Counsel of Record for amicus AAJ)

Ruiz v. Podolsky, 50 Cal.4th 838, 237 P.3d 584 (2010) (argued for plaintiff, did not brief)

John J. Kane Regional Centers v. Grammer, 130 S.Ct. 1524 (Mem)(cert. denied) (Counsel of Record for respondent)

Bennett v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 618 F.3d 19 (DC Cir. 2010) (counsel for plaintiff)

Jones v. Halliburton, 130 S.Ct. 1756 (Mem) (2010), certiorari dismissed (Counsel of Record for respondent), decision below, 583 F.3d 228 (5th Cir. 2009), rehearing denied October 19, 2009 (counsel for plaintiff-appellee), affirming Jones v. Halliburton Co., 625 F. Supp 2d 339 (S.D. Tx. 2008) (counsel for plaintiff)

D’Jamoos ex rel. Estate of Weingeroff v. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., 130 S.Ct. 2340 (Mem) (cert. denied) (Counsel of Record for petitioner), decision below 566 F.3d 94 (3d Cir.2009) (counsel for appellant)

Mendez v. Puerto Rican National Companies, Inc., 553 F.3d 709 (3d Cir. 2009) (counsel for plaintiff)

Peters v. Columbus Steel Castings Co., 115 Ohio St.3d 134, 873 N.E.2d 1258 (2007) (counsel for plaintiff)

Bundren v. Parriott, 245 Fed.Appx. 822 (10th Cir. 2007)(counsel for amici; court adopted proposed rationale)

Melena v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 219 Ill.2d 135, 847 N.E.2d 99 (2006) (counsel for plaintiff)

Gourley v. Knolla, 265 Neb. 918 (2003) (counsel for plaintiff)

Milon v. Duke University, 355 N.C. 263 (2002), cert. dismissed 536 U.S. 979 (Counsel of Record for respondent)

Lisanti v. Alamo Title Co., 137 N.M 750 (2002)(counsel for amicus), cert. denied 537 U.S. 1193 (Counsel of Record for Respondent).

University of Maryland Medical System Corp. v. Malory, 143 Md.App. 327, 795 A.2d 107

(Md.App.,2001), review denied 368 Md. 527, 796 A.2d 696 (2002) (counsel for plaintiff)

Huffstetler v. North Carolina Dept. of Human Resources, 404 S.E.2d 880 (N.C.App. 1991) (counsel for plaintiff)

Marlow v. North Carolina Employment Sec. Com’n, 493 S.E.2d 302 (N.C.App. 1997) (counsel for plaintiff)

Martinez v. Sullivan, 874 F.2d 751 (10th Cir. 1989), affirming Martinez v. Bowen, 655 F.Supp. 95 (D.N.M. 1986) (counsel for plaintiff)

Hayes v. Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, 656 F.2d 204 (6th Cir. 1981) (counsel for plaintiff)

Snowden v. Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, 648 F.2d 1082 (6th Cir. 1981) (counsel for plaintiff)


Breaking Through Nursing Homes’ Forced Arbitration (an interview with John Vail by Martin S. Kardon), 52 Trial 26 (April 2016)

Cost-Shifting in Discovery: Point-Counterpoint, 99 Judicature 2, at 68 et seq. (point-counterpoint with Alex Dahl, general counsel of Lawyers for Civil Justice)

Pass or Fail: Grading the Supreme Court (The Case Against the Supreme Court) Erwin Chemerinsky, (book review), 51 Trial 57 (January 2015)

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)

The Invisible Constitution (review of eponymous book by Laurence H. Tribe), 45 TRIAL 4 (April, 2009)

Big Business Acts the Bully, National Law Journal, August 4th, 2008,

The Real Issue Is Jurors’ Rights, National Law Journal, February 4th, 2008,

Blame It on the Bee Gees: The Attack on Trial Lawyers and Civil Justice, 51 N.Y.L Sch. L. Rev. 323 (2006) (with Robert S. Peck)

Courts Resist Calls for Intervention in Physician Expert Testimony, 19 California Litigation 3 (2006)

Big Money v. The Framers, Yale L.J. (The Pocket Part) (December 2005)

The Menace of Mandatory Arbitration, 41 TRIAL 8 (August 2005) (with Tom Osborne)

Justice in Plainclothes: A Theory of American Constitutional Practice (review of eponymous book by Lawrence Sager), 41 TRIAL 2 (February 2005)

Discrimination in Education: Some Thoughts on American Law and Experience, European Roma Rights Center (Budapest, 2004),

Chipping at the Core of Justice, 40 TRIAL 28 (April, 2004) (with Jane Perkins)

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)


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 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 am Chair of the Board of Directors of Public Justice, P.C., a national public interest law firm based in Washington, DC.

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 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 forty five 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.


Moderate proficiency in French.


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