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University of Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill has been tapped to lead the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), starting in January 2013. She will be following in the footsteps of the legendary Thurgood Marshall, who headed the LDF when it was first launched in 1940 until 1961. The LDF is the country’s first and foremost civil and human rights law firm.

It’s a perfect fit. Ifill is a civil rights litigator who has specialized in voting rights and political participation, and she is also an LDF alum. According to the Afro, as a young attorney, Ifill served as assistant counsel in LDF’s New York office.

“It was a dream come true to serve as a lawyer at LDF years ago, and it is a high honor to return to this premiere institution as president and director-counsel,” Ifill said in a statement.

LDF, which was founded more than 70 years ago, focuses on legal advocacy centered around advancing equality in the criminal justice system, achieving educational parity, increasing political participation and ensuring the appointment of fair-minded and diverse judges. Some of most famous civil rights cases were prompted by the LDF. When the LDF coordinated legal assault against officially enforced public school segregation, the campaign culminated in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine of legally sanctioned discrimination, known as Jim Crow.

Ifill says she is up to the task. “I am looking forward to working with the LDF team, allies and partners to advance an innovative 21st century civil rights practice that confronts the barriers to equality and justice in the lives of the most marginalized members of our community,” she added in the press statement.

Outside of he courtroom and classroom, Ifill is a noted public intellectual, who regularly offers commentary on pressing issues. Ifill, a graduate of the New York University School of Law,  is also the author of On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century.

In 1993 Ifill joined the faculty of  the University Maryland School of Law, where she established several innovative legal clinics, including an environmental justice clinic, and one of the first legal clinics in the nation to focus on the legal rights of ex-offenders.

If her surname sounds familiar, Ifill is a cousin of noted Public Broadcast System news anchor Gwen Ifill.

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