This year, Sherrilyn Ifill became the seventh president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). A professor at the University of Maryland School of Law for 20 years, Ifill ’87 also litigated and consulted on a wide range of civil rights cases. In 1991, when she was LDF assistant counsel, she won the landmark case Houston Lawyers’ Association v. Attorney General of Texas, in which the Supreme Court held that trial judges’ elections are covered by the Voting Rights Act. In the wake of the high court’s June decision to gut the VRA, Ifill spoke with Marlen Bodden ’86, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society, to discuss the challenges ahead for herself and the nation.
What are your top priorities as the head of the LDF?
Many civil rights organizations have been playing an important and aggressive defense game to hold onto the extraordinary gains of the civil rights movement. But I want to play offense, and my focus is on those who are the most marginalized—at the intersections of race and class, and race and poverty—and on the legal barriers to educational and economic opportunities.
Does the discussion about race obscure other injustices, such as those rooted in poverty?
Actually, race illuminates poverty. The most egregious injustices in our country occur at the intersection of race and poverty.
LDF defended the VRA. What will be the longterm impact on the country after the Supreme Court’s decision to effectively allow states to change their election laws without advance federal approval?
It changes what we have come to expect of democratic participation in this country. Unless Congress can pass a fix to the VRA we’ll see the success of voter discrimination and suppression, especially at the local level, so in judicial elections, and those for school boards, town councils, water districts.