Racial Justice: Key NAACP Legal Defense Fund Cases with Sherrilyn Ifill

From the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education case to voting rights and education, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) has been the nation’s premier civil rights law organization fighting for racial justice and equality since its founding in 1940 by legendary civil rights lawyer (and later Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall. Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), will discuss important NAACP cases and issues in a live taping of the Stanford Legal podcast.

This episode originally aired on SiriusXM on March 28, 2020.

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Racial Justice: Key NAACP Legal Defense Fund Cases with Sherrilyn Ifill

On this edition of Stanford Legal, hosts Pam Karlan and Joe Bankman are joined by Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF). The trio examines the work LDF is doing for voting rights, criminal justice, education, and economic justice, particularly in the South. Ifill states, “I remind people that 52% of African Americans still live in the South. I think people forget that. It’s also the place that has the fewest resources when it comes to the kind of civil rights litigation that we bring. And so we try to be very concentrated.”

Ifill sheds light on an evolving case in one of Louisiana’s parishes in which the system of electing trial judges have kept African Americans from being able to elect their candidate of choice for judges. Suing under Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, they were able to win at trial but now wait on the result of the appeal in the Fifth Circuit.

Karlan remarks on the recent change in the Voting Rights Act that ultimately allowed this case to come to work; Section Five of the Voting Rights Act was declared unconstitutional in the Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder. Ifill says, “Section Five was regarded as one of the most effective provisions of any civil rights statute ever because it was the one provision that allowed you to get at the discrimination before it happened.” The section was created in order to safeguard voting rights in areas with historic discrimination, but that is no longer the case.

“[Ferguson, Missouri] was doing what it has now been revealed more widely, many towns are doing, which is essentially using fines and fees as a way to keep the town going. And imposing on poor people, predominantly African Americans by racial profiling, by the disparate application of harsh laws that require fines and fees…” notes Ifill, talking about the disparate impact that discriminatory judicial legislation can have on minority groups. In Florida, for example, many formerly incarcerated individuals were granted the ability to vote again, but only after they paid their outstanding fines and fees from their time in the prison system.

—Max Smith