Civil Rights

Law Prof to Head NAACP Legal Defense Fund as High Court Could Curb Civil Rights Gains

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The new president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund takes over as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering two cases that could curb gains made by the group.

University of Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill begins the new job next month, NPR reports. She tells the broadcast network that discrimination persists despite the fact that the nation’s president and attorney general are African-American. Many people of color are in poverty as a result of the financial crisis, she said, and too many have a hard time finding homes and a good education.

In an interview last month with the Root, Ifill spoke of the disparities. “LDF changed America,” she said. “But too many have been left behind, and the opening of the door is getting narrower and narrower.”

“We want to spend some time addressing the effects of the economic crisis on the African-American community,” Ifill told the Root. “That includes the foreclosure crisis, which has had devastating effects on families, neighborhoods and educational systems in African-American communities. Sadly, employment discrimination remains an ongoing problem.”

Ifill is watching two U.S. Supreme Court cases. One case, Fisher v. University of Texas, challenges a university admissions program that considered race as a factor when evaluating personal achievement. The other, Shelby County v. Holder, challenges a key provision of the Voting Rights Act requiring some government entities to get federal approval of changes to their voting laws.

Ifill began her career handling voting rights cases for the fund. She tells NPR that recent cases challenging voter ID laws show why the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement is so important. Requiring governments with a history of discrimination to submit changes to the Justice Department “allowed the department and allowed communities to see what these voter ID laws were going to look like, to see the ways in which they were going to disproportionately, disparately and negatively affect racial minorities,” Ifill said.

Ifill told the Root that the LDF will be “working to convince the court to defer to Congress’ judgment that the Voting Rights Act is still needed.”

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