Sherrilyn Ifill and the NAACP Legal Defense Educational Fund Inc (LDF) Driving Diversity and Democracy in the Legal Profession

by chris

When asked about the mission of the NAACP LDF, Sherrilyn Ifill, President & Director of the nation’s premier civil rights law organization, stated, “I am fond of saying that civil rights work is the work of democracy maintenance. I truly believe that. Our fundamental mission is to eliminate barriers to equality, opportunity and justice for African- Americans. In doing that work, we push this country to be faithful and true to the principles of equality, justice and fairness that are in our Constitution and that undergird our legal system.” The organization was founded and led by former Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall and has continued take the lead in civil rights litigation and advocacy for 75 years. “My job is to shape and lead the strategic work of the organization, to be a national spokesperson for the most pressing civil rights issues faced by African-Americans today, and to see to it that our organization has the resources it needs to provide the highest level of civil rights lawyering and advocacy for the most marginalized African-Americans.”

While many have asked about the relevance of organizations such as LDF, current events highlight that more continues to divide the country and impacts the importance of diversity. “Diversity is a quintessential American quality and we should be making the most of it. Our country is, by its very nature, diverse. In many ways, it is America’s greatest asset. We should celebrate and exploit that asset by ensuring that our work, our decision-making and our lives are shaped by the perspectives, skills and experiences of diverse voices. Segregation and racial exclusion are not only illegal, but they also impoverish our thinking, our decision-making and ability to solve problems. It still astonishes me that diversity is even something controversial,” Ifill continued. “When Justice Thurgood Marshall retired from the bench, many of his colleagues wrote about the unique perspectives that he brought to the room when the justices talked about their cases. I remember that Justice Byron White wrote that Marshall told the justices things that they simply could not know because of their limited experiences. Over the past few months, this nation has been compelled to confront the reality of racial profiling and police violence against unarmed African-Americans. The legal profession needs to be informed by the perspectives and knowledge of African-Americans, women and other minority lawyers who understand the unique realities of diverse communities, and who can infuse legal strategies and decision-making with this knowledge.”

The NAACP LDF has a specific agenda to meet the needs of its constituency and the nation. “LDF is focused on four key areas that we think constitute the fault line for equality and justice: education, economic opportunity, criminal justice and voting rights. We regard voting rights and the full opportunity for meaningful political participation to be core work of our organization – and it has been since LDF successfully challenged the all-white primary elections in Texas in the 1940s. The weight of the criminal justice system and the unequal application of our law enforcement apparatus on African- Americans have devastated so many of our families and communities. Changing this is a high priority for us.” She added, “Of course, education remains at the core of who we are. We have just passed the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. We take the challenge of Brown seriously and we continue to focus our efforts on education in the South, especially. Currently, we are looking more closely at returning to housing segregation and inequity as a key area of focus.”

In recognition of LDF’s 75th anniversary, Ifill excitedly shared that LDF will launch a new initiative this year. “The Thurgood Marshall Policy Institute, a research, advocacy and communications think tank within LDF will allow us to work more effectively at shaping the terms of the debate about race and civil rights in this country,” she explained.

Sherrilyn Ifill and NAACP LDF continue to drive diversity and democracy in the legal profession and the United States.

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