Leading Civil Rights Attorney and Law Prof. Sherrilyn Ifill to Head NAACP LDF

November 19, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

One of the nation’s preeminent civil and human rights groups, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), tapped as its new leader one of the nation’s foremost civil rights attorneys and scholars Sherrilyn Ifill. The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall helped found LDF in 1940 and led the battle in its first couple of decades to end segregation of the public schools.

Ifill (pictured), a frequent ACS participant, who has also occasionally provided guest posts for ACSblog, will be LDF’s next president and director-counsel in January. She is also a Professor of Law at the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law, and as The Root notes is “no stranger to LDF’s work.”

The Root continues:

Early in her career, before joining the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Law, authoring On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century, and making a name for herself as a respected civil rights strategist, she served as assistant counsel in LDF’s New York office. There, she litigated voting rights cases, including the landmark Voting Rights Act case Houston Lawyers' Association vs. Attorney General of Texas.

In March, LDF’s sixth Director-Counsel and President John Payton died. Payton, like his predecessors at LDF, was also a tireless advocate for civil liberties and human rights. In a tribute piece to Payton, ACS Board member and former LDF Director-Counsel and President Theodore M. Shaw said Payton’s “advocacy on behalf of the poor, the disenfranchised, and the excluded reached beyond the United States. He worked against the apartheid in South Africa, and traveled around the world in support of rights.”     

Ifill will lead LDF at yet another critical juncture on the path to full equality. The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced it will consider a case, Shelby County v. Holder, in which the justices will consider the constitutionality of the Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Sec. 5 is an integral enforcement provision of the landmark civil rights law. It requires states and localities with long histories of suppressing the votes of minorities to obtain “preclearance” from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. before any changes are made to their elections laws. Officials for Shelby County, Ala. argue that the Sec.5 is outdated and therefore should be invalidated by the justices.

In a press statement regarding the high court’s action to consider the constitutionality of Sec. 5, LDF stated, “In light of our history and recent voting experience, it would be an extraordinary judicial act for the Court to cast aside the sound judgment that American can and must do more to ensure equality.”

Ifill, and others have noted, that Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act has played an instrumental role in stopping some of the recent state efforts to suppress votes, especially those of minorities, the elderly, college students and low-income people. In an article earlier this for The Root, Ifill said some of the states’ efforts, including rigid ID laws, limits on early voting and registration drives, looked like relics of the pre-civil rights-era Southern states “to manipulate the voting strength of the electorate.”

LDF with Ifill at the helm will continue to be a leading defender of a powerful Voting Rights Act, one that includes tools necessary to defeating the discriminatory voting measures.