Person

Sherrilyn Ifill

Born:

December 17, 1962

Nationality:

American

Organization:

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

Sherrilyn Ifill is an academic who worked as the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) from 2013 until she announced that she would step down from her role in the LDF in late 2021 or early 2022. Her successor will be current associate director counsel Janai Nelson.

Ifill has held board seats with George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF), and she was invited to speak at OSF events after taking over the LDF. In 2019, the LDF attained a $15 million grant from OSF. [1]

In August 2021, Ross Yoon Agency announced that Ifill was working on a book on “an unflinching diagnosis of how America’s ongoing embrace of white supremacy has weakened our country’s institutions and brought American democracy to the point of crisis.” [2]

Career

After graduating from Vassar College with a bachelor’s degree in English and from New York University School of Law, Sherrilyn Ifill began her career as a fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In 1998, she joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) for the first time, and worked on voting rights cases for five years. [3]

In 1993, Ifill left the LDF to become a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law where she would stay for 20 years. [4]

At some point, Ifill joined the boards of the U.S. programs of George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF), and the board of the Open Society Institute Baltimore. In 2011, Ifill was appointed board chair of OSF’s U.S. programs. [5]

In 2013, Ifill returned to the LDF as counsel-director. [6] “Sherrilyn Ifill.” LDF. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.naacpldf.org/about-us/staff/sherrilyn-ifill/.[/note] From 2016 to 2020, Ifill led the LDF to expand its staff by 100, nearly doubling the total. The organization received a massive burst of funds after the police-custody death of George Floyd, resulting in planned expansion of another 40 employees and a third office. [7] In 2021, Ifill was appointed by President Joe Biden to the Commission on the Supreme Court convened to examine, among other policy proposals, “court-packing.” [8]

Ifill sits on the boards of the Learning Policy Institute, the NYU Law School of Trustees, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Profiles in Courage Advisory Board. [9]

Views and Advocacy

Election Law

Sherrilyn Ifill has led the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in presenting legal challenges against voter laws. She attributes a new wave of “voter suppression laws” to the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision which struck down requirements for states with racist legal histories to submit all new voting laws for federal approval. Ifill described the group as “playing whack-a-mole” in 2020 against dozens of new state laws across the country. [10] Ifill accused voter laws as being racist attempts by Republicans to suppress racial minority voters. [11] She said: “We’re facing what is the most extraordinary level, depth and breadth of voter suppression that I have witnessed in the decades that I have been a voting-rights lawyer.” [12]

Criminal Justice

Sherrilyn Ifill has led the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in “challenging racism in the criminal justice system at every level. She believes that the police in particular have demonstrated an ongoing racial prejudice against black Americans, which was publicly revealed by the police-custody deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd. Ifill described the protests and riots in the aftermath of Floyd’s death as “overwhelming[ly]… peaceful” and an important push toward justice. [13]

Ifill has accused calls for law-and-order by politicians like former President Donald Trump of being “dog whistles” for racism. [14]

Reparations

Sherrilyn Ifill is in favor of reparations for Black Americans, though she is unsure of the ideal structure and extent. She supports legislation to convene commissions to study the issue of reparations in regard to specific historical crimes, including lynching, terrorism, and housing segregation. [15]

Amtrak Incident

On January 17, 2020, while Sherrilyn Ifill rode an Amtrak train from Baltimore to New York City, a junior conductor asked her to leave her seat for other unseen passengers. Ifill refused, noting that Amtrak didn’t have assigned seats, and asked to speak with a senior conductor. He stated that she was asked to change seats because they preferred to keep that row empty. Ifill ultimately didn’t move. [16]

Ifill’s Tweet about the incident, which compared it to Jim Crow-era restrictions on African Americans, received over 10,000 retweets and over 47,000 likes. [17] The story was picked up by numerous news outlets. The following week, Amtrak publicly apologized. [18]

References

  1. “Open Society Announces $15 Million to Support NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc..” Open Society Foundations. October 8, 2019. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/newsroom/open-society-announces-15-million-to-support-naacp-legal-defense-and-educational-fund-inc. ^
  2. Allen, Mike. “First look: Sherrilyn Ifill plans book on ‘ongoing embrace of white supremacy.’” Axios. August 11, 2021. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.axios.com/sherrilyn-ifill-book-racism-bff2b41e-ea69-4620-aa38-3e4c2c8d823a.html. ^
  3. “Sherrilyn Ifill.” LDF. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.naacpldf.org/about-us/staff/sherrilyn-ifill/. ^
  4. “Sherrilyn Ifill.” LDF. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.naacpldf.org/about-us/staff/sherrilyn-ifill/. ^
  5. “Sherrilyn Ifill Appointed Board Chair of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations.” Open Society Foundations. April 17, 2011. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/newsroom/sherrilyn-ifill-appointed-board-chair-us-programs-open-society-foundations. ^
  6. “Sherrilyn Ifill.” LDF. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.naacpldf.org/about-us/staff/sherrilyn-ifill/. ^
  7. Shapiro, Eben. “Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, on the Battle Over RBG’s Seat and Making Every Vote Count.” Time. September 27, 2020. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://time.com/5891106/naacp-sherrilyn-ifill-rbg-voter-supression/. ^
  8. “Sherrilyn Ifill.” LDF. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.naacpldf.org/about-us/staff/sherrilyn-ifill/. ^
  9. “Sherrilyn Ifill.” LDF. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.naacpldf.org/about-us/staff/sherrilyn-ifill/. ^
  10. Shapiro, Eben. “Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, on the Battle Over RBG’s Seat and Making Every Vote Count.” Time. September 27, 2020. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://time.com/5891106/naacp-sherrilyn-ifill-rbg-voter-supression/. ^
  11. “Sherrilyn Ifill.” Twitter. April 24, 2021. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://twitter.com/sifill_ldf/status/1385922251921448973?lang=en. ^
  12. Shapiro, Eben. “Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, on the Battle Over RBG’s Seat and Making Every Vote Count.” Time. September 27, 2020. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://time.com/5891106/naacp-sherrilyn-ifill-rbg-voter-supression/. ^
  13. Shapiro, Eben. “Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, on the Battle Over RBG’s Seat and Making Every Vote Count.” Time. September 27, 2020. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://time.com/5891106/naacp-sherrilyn-ifill-rbg-voter-supression/. ^
  14. Shapiro, Eben. “Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, on the Battle Over RBG’s Seat and Making Every Vote Count.” Time. September 27, 2020. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://time.com/5891106/naacp-sherrilyn-ifill-rbg-voter-supression/. ^
  15. Shapiro, Eben. “Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, on the Battle Over RBG’s Seat and Making Every Vote Count.” Time. September 27, 2020. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://time.com/5891106/naacp-sherrilyn-ifill-rbg-voter-supression/. ^
  16. Pitts, Jonathan M. “Civil rights attorney Ifill asked to surrender seat on Baltimore-bound Amtrak train as MLK weekend began.” Baltimore Sun. January 18, 2020. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-ifill-train-seat-20200118-hnmoetbrmbcsphe42k7sqhhqdi-story.html. ^
  17. “Sherrilyn Ifill.” Twitter. January 17, 2020. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://twitter.com/Sifill_LDF/status/1218296672524042240?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1218296672524042240%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fnypost.com%2F2020%2F01%2F18%2Famtrak-conductor-tried-to-force-naacp-exec-to-give-up-her-seat%2F ^
  18. Weiss, Debra Cassens. “Amtrak apologizes after Sherrilyn Ifill says conductor asked her to give up her train seat.” ABA Journal. January 21, 2020. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/amtrak-apologizes-after-Sherrilyn-Ifill-says-conductor-asked-her-to-give-up-her-train-seat. ^
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