LDF Year in Review 2021

On the heels of a tumultuous year, 2021 brought its own set of changes, challenges, and triumphs. In a year that began with a violent insurrection at our nation’s capital, LDF remained undeterred in the fight to protect our democracy in the face of unprecedented attacks. The events of January 6 were a devastating reminder that our democracy remains on a razor’s edge. And a reminder of our obligation to protect it, and the vigor with which we must fight.

As states across the country passed voter suppression laws targeting voters of color, LDF swiftly filed lawsuits challenging these attempts to disenfranchise and suppress the voices of communities of color. Though 2021 is the first redistricting cycle without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, LDF has remained steadfast in the fight for fair maps. We championed protestors’ rights and challenged qualified immunity. We continued our decades-long battle to desegregate schools and achieve educational equity. In the face of clear and coordinated attacks against truth and efforts to restrict or ban the truthful teaching of American history, LDF is fighting back.

LDF’s mission has always been transformative: to achieve racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society. As we look toward the challenges and opportunities of 2022, we are taking a moment to reflect on the past year, the battles we’ve fought, those we’ve won, and what it means for our collective future. 


Criminal Justice

Policing and Protest

Florida’s response to the millions of people who took to streets to demand police accountability was to pass a law that criminalizes protest, and gives police greater authority to make arrests and use violence against demonstrators. LDF is challenging H.B. 1, Florida’s anti-protest law that criminalizes protest, alleging that H.B. 1 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by chilling protected speech and criminalizing protest activity. In September, a judge granted LDF and civil rights groups’ request to block Governor DeSantis and three Florida Sheriffs from enforcing the riot definition created by Section 15 of the law.

Qualified Immunity

In July 2018, Joseph Ferguson was tased by Officer McDonough of the Kenosha Police Department. Prior to the tasing, Mr. Ferguson had not actively resisted but Officer McDonough used enough force that Mr. Ferguson’s jacket came off and his pants fell to the ground. He was tased while standing in the street with his hands up wearing only his boxers. Mr. Ferguson filed a lawsuit alleging his civil rights were violated. Officer McDonough claimed qualified immunity as a defense, but in a September 2021 decision, the court allowed his case to proceed and dismissed the officer’s appeal and qualified immunity defense.

Qualified Immunity

In December 2017, Eric Tyler Vette was punched, hit in the face with a dog chain, and bitten by a police dog after he was apprehended by Montrose County, Colorado police. After Mr. Vette filed a complaint against the officers, Sergeant Sanders filed his own affidavit and claimed qualified immunity. The district court denied Sergeant Sanders claim to qualified immunity twice, stating that his actions were a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. LDF and Rights Behind Bars represent Mr. Vette.

Advocacy + Publications

Criminal Justice

"We Are Not Lesser" Tulsa Policing Report

Incidents of police brutality, and racial disparities in the Tulsa Police Departments' arrests and uses of force have inspired a sustained movement to address these inequities and transform Tulsa’s public safety system. Since 2019, LDF has been working with organizers and community leaders to address these inequities and advocate for change. The report details testimony from residents shared at community meetings, and presents specific recommendations that City leaders can implement to achieve a more equitable Tulsa.

Five Times Police Used Qualified Immunity to Get Away with Misconduct and Violence

Throughout the United States, law enforcement officers have stolen money and valuables, shot children, attempted to harm family pets, killed vulnerable people, and, worst of all, they have gotten away with it — all because of qualified immunity. Our latest original content piece offers just a snapshot of the type of conduct law enforcement officers have gotten away with for decades, and how qualified immunity shields law enforcement officers from accountability.

LDF's Letter Urging the Justice Department to suspend Police Funding

In April, LDF sent a letter to urging Attorney General Garland to suspend funding to law enforcement agencies until the DOJ can ensure recipients are not violating the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The Changing Landscape of Policing

Since our founding, LDF has worked to strengthen accountability for police misconduct every level through litigation, research, legislative advocacy, and community organizing. Over the past year, in the absence of federal legislation, cities and states have taken steps to to address police accountability and transform public safety. LDF's Justice in Public Safety Project tracked and compiled an index of the legislation and policies enacted this year.

We Can Never Be Satisfied

Honoring George Floyd's Life and Legacy


Political Participation

In September 2021, LDF filed a lawsuit challenging S.B. 1, a new Texas law that greatly restricts access to voting. S.B. 1 includes several suppressive voting provisions that will make it much harder for Texans to vote and disenfranchise some altogether, particularly Black and Latino voters and voters with disabilities.

Policing and Voting

On the last day of early voting in Alamance County, North Carolina, marchers and prospective voters walking from a church to a nearby polling site—among them young children, elderly individuals, and those with disabilities— were pepper-sprayed without warning or provocation by police. Some prospective voters were unable to register to vote by the 3 p.m deadline. In November 2020, LDF and co-counsel filed a lawsuit against the City of Graham and Alamance County challenging this unwarranted use of force and intimidation of prospective voters Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Section 1985(3) of the KKK Act, and the 1st and 4th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. In June 2021, LDF and co-counsel reached a settlement in the case. 

Filed in November 2021, the lawsuits charge that the newly drawn congressional redistricting map denies Black residents equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of choice, and that both the congressional and state legislative maps result from racial gerrymanders that intentionally pack and crack Black communities in the state, which denies such communities equal protection of the laws. 

Voting rights

Filed in August 2020, NAACP v. USPS challenged USPS delivery delays and inadequate measures to ensure timely delivery of mail-in ballots for the November 2020 election. Our suit resulted in USPS implementing court-ordered “extraordinary measures” for the timely delivery of ballots. On December 17 2021, LDF and Public Citizen announced a settlement in the historic case. The settlement ensures that it will undertake similar efforts to prioritize the delivery of ballots in future national elections.

Advocacy + Publications

Political Participation

Democracy Defended: Findings From the 2020 Election

In our Democracy Defended report, LDF tracked voter suppression in key states throughout the 2020 election and offered recommendations for curbing attacks on the right to vote. The content of the report bears witness to persistent and unrelenting attempts to suppress the Black vote.


Ahead of the 2021 redistricting cycle, LDF, AAJC, and MALDEF released Power on the Line(s): Making Redistricting Work for Us, a comprehensive guide to the redistricting process and how communities can fight for fair maps and ensure their voices are heard. Since the redistricting process began, LDF has sent letters, submitted proposed maps, and filed lawsuits opposing discriminatory redistricting plans.

Local Elections Guide

Leaving no power on the table means using your vote in every race in every election because it matters. We compiled an index of some of the major elected positions in state and local government and their functions to help voters prepare for the election and become acquainted with how state and local government impacts communities.

Voting Rights Legislation Now

National voting protections are extremely urgent. LDF has been advocating for the swift passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) and the Freedom to Vote Act (FTVA). Our latest original content pieces break down the vital protections in the VRAA and FTVA, why we need national voting protections, and the troubling impact lawmakers’ failure to pass legislation has on voters of color, voters with disabilities, and other vulnerable communities

We Refuse to Go Backward: Voting Rights Legislation Now



Thomas v. St. Martin Parish School Board is a Louisiana school desegregation case dating back to 1965. The School Board asked to dismiss the case multiple times. At trial in March 2021, LDF urged the court to uphold the consent decrees and school desegregation plan to close racial disparities in academic achievement, remedy the effects of segregation in schools, and end discriminatory disciplinary practices. In June 2021, the court ruled in LDF’s favor and ordered the school board to continue its desegregation efforts. The decision confirmed that the school board had failed to meet the requirements set in the 2016 consent order.

LDF represents DeAndre and K.B. Arnold in a lawsuit challenging the BHISD’s discriminatory hair and grooming policies. After refusing to cut their locs, both students were effectively expelled from the school they had attended their whole lives. In March 2021, LDF filed an amended complaint arguing that, not only did BHISD selectively enforce its discriminatory hair policy to target Black students with uncut locs, but, when the discrimination made the local news, BHISD ramped up enforcement of the hair policy against other students in an apparent attempt to conceal the selective enforcement.

Advocacy + Publications


Guide for Reopening and Operating Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The shuttering of schools across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic made clear how indispensable public schools are to American life. As schools closed, students were cut off from much needed support and resources like meals and essential school-based services, access to high-speed broadband internet, technology support and more. Our report issues guidance and recommendations for schools to protect the health and safety of students, and ensure equitable access to education.

Critical Race Theory FAQ

Over the past year, the term “critical race theory” has been co-opted and warped as a catch-all and rallying cry to ban or restrict discussions about race and racism, pass anti-truth laws, and reverse progress toward racial justice. To set the record straight about Critical Race Theory, we compiled answers to the most frequently asked questions about it.

LDF's Pro-Truth Work

History tells us that truth is essential for a society to grow. Every student has the right to an equitable and inclusive education that tells the truth about our nation’s past. As we have watched states enact laws that could ban or restrict the truthful teaching of American history, LDF has been fighting back to protect truth, and defend education that is historically accurate and inclusive of the experiences of Black Americans, Native Americans, Latinx Americans, Asian Americans, women, and other marginalized groups.


Economic Justice

Since our founding, LDF has worked to increase fairness and equal opportunity for Black Americans in all aspects of the economy. In 2021, we filed an amicus brief in a landmark employment discrimination case standing up for the rights of Black workers and urging the court to address discrimination in the labor movement. First filed in 1971, the case alleges that Local 580 violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by excluding Black workers from the union and failing to refer them to employment opportunities. 

Housing Discrimination

This case concerns New York City’s Third Party Transfer (TPT) Program and its devastating impact on homeowners of color. TPT has been used to unjustly seize homes from older homeowners, primarily in communities of color, without paying the homeowners the surplus equity of their homes. In December 2021, LDF filed its second amicus brief in the case, alleging that the TPT Program violates the Takings Clause of the U.S. and New York State Constitutions by unlawfully stripping older homeowners of color of wealth and equity without just compensation. The brief also argues that plaintiffs have adequately alleged that the program deprives communities of color of their constitutional right to equal protection.

After then President Trump issued Executive Order Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping that prohibited speech and activities promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, LDF swiftly filed a lawsuit challenging the order as a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of Free Speech and the Fifth Amendment guarantees of Due Process and the Equal Protection of the Law. In January 2021, LDF filed an amended complaint adding American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity (AAAED) as a plaintiff, and naming several federal agencies as defendants. Though it was rescinded by the Biden Administration, the EO had already had a chilling effect. The EO became the blueprint for states to craft their own anti-truth laws that could ban the truthful teaching of American history in schools and quell efforts to promote diversity, and equity.

Advocacy + Publications

Economic Justice

Justice Above All Podcast

Evictions and Housing Instability During the Pandemic

State and local bans on evictions have protected communities from the spread of COVID-19, and helped families weather economic hardship, but people are still losing their homes. On this episode, host and Thurgood Marshall Institute Senior Researcher Dr. Kesha Moore talks with Sarah Saadian, Vice President of Public Policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Sophie House, Law and Policy Director at NYU’s Furman Center’s Housing Solutions Lab, and Jason Bailey, LDF Assistant Counsel about the current housing epidemic links back to the 2008 financial crisis, the racial disparities in evictions, and how we can use the pandemic as impetus to prioritize creating a social safety net for renters.

More than Roads and Bridges: A Comprehensive Approach to Sound Infrastructure Is an Important Counter to Historic Racial Inequity

Black communities have long been harmed by failing infrastructure and decades of divestment. This TMI brief examines how sound infrastructure can help counter structural inequalities driven by segregation and unequal investment in Black communities.

Our Nation’s Water Systems Are Failing and Black Communities Are Bearing the Brunt

For as long as our cities have been rigidly segregated by race, local officials have found ways to deprive communities of color of access to essential water services. On World Water Day, LDF Senior Counsel and Thurgood Marshall Institute Researcher Coty Montag examined the impact of the water crises in Jackson, MS, Detroit, MI, and Cleveland, OH, and the clear link between racial discrimination and water affordability.

Black hair is beautiful. Black hair is cultural. Black hair is symbolic. Black hair belongs.



Together with the CROWN Coalition, LDF is fighting to end hair discrimination and advocating for the CROWN Act to become law in all 50 states.

The impact of hair discrimination cannot be overstated. Schools and workplaces across the country often have dress codes and grooming policies in place prohibiting natural hairstyles, like afros, braids, bantu knots, and locs. These policies that criminalize natural hair have been used to justify the removal of Black children from classrooms, and adults from their employment.

The CROWN Act would change that. The legislation establishes protection against race-based hair discrimination in the workplace and public and charter schools.

This year, in advance of CROWN Day, LDF compiled a list of Natural Hair Discrimination FAQs and cases to learn more about Black hair, how natural hair discrimination perpetuates systemic racism, and how you can help fight back against natural hair discrimination.


LDF History

The Life and Legacy of

Constance Baker Motley

LDF honored the legacy of Constance Baker Motley in a September 14, 2021 event — the 100th anniversary of her birth. The commemoration included remarks by Vice President Kamala Harris, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, son Joel Motley, and a panel featuring Harvard University Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin, historian and professor Martha S. Jones, JD, PhD, and Estée Lauder Vice Chairman Sara Moss.

LDF’s first female attorney, Constance Baker Motley wrote the original complaint in Brown v. Board of Education and pioneered the legal campaigns for several seminal school desegregation cases. She was the first Black woman to argue before the Supreme Court and went on to win nine out of ten cases. Motley became the first Black woman to serve in the New York State Senate and the first woman to serve as Manhattan Borough President. She later became the first Black woman to sit as a federal judge.

LDF Programs

Marshall Motley Scholars Program

This year, LDF launched our groundbreaking Marshall-Motley Scholars Program named after Constance Baker Motley and LDF founder Thurgood Marshall. The MMSP supports and develops the next wave of civil rights lawyers in the South, where the majority of Black Americans live. Over the next five years, LDF will invest in the establishment of a corps of 50 civil rights attorneys equipped and prepared to advocate on behalf of Black communities in the South seeking racial justice and equity.

In May 2021, LDF announced the first 10 person cohort of the MMSP. The inaugural cohort is a stellar collection of individuals committed to racial justice and equality. Each of the 10 Scholars is either from the South or was raised in the region. 

Sherrilyn Ifill Time 100 Talks— Hope for the future

LDF Future

At this moment, more than at any time in my lifetime, more Americans understand what it means to fight for democracy, understand that democracy doesn’t just come in a box and you open it up and you stand it up and it stays that way forever, but that it’s actual work.

People ask me all the time, what can we do to help? And that makes me incredibly hopeful, because not only does that mean that there are people who are prepared to fight, but they are not fighting to return to where we were. They are fighting for something fresh, and new and better, and thats what I’ve been fighting for in my career.

- Sherrilyn Ifill