Courtesy of Howard University
Howard University announced the appointment of civil rights lawyer and scholar Sherrilyn Ifill, as the inaugural Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Esq. Endowed Chair in Civil Rights.
This appointment is a testament to Ifill’s distinguished career and outstanding contributions to the fields of law, civil rights, and social justice. Ifill most recently served as the seventh president & director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the venerable civil rights litigation organization founded by Howard Law School alum, Thurgood Marshall. Marshall was the foremost civil rights litigator of the 20th century and became the first Black justice on the United States Supreme Court in 1967.
Vernon Jordan, Jr., Esq. (J.D. ’60) was a revered business leader, civil rights activist, confidant and advisor to leaders in business, politics, and law, until his passing in 2021. Jordan graduated from Howard Law School in 1960 and served for 21 years on the Board of Trustees of Howard University. Jordan had a storied career as a civil rights activist and participated first-hand in some of the most important efforts during the Civil Rights Movement, including serving on the legal team that successfully challenged segregation at the University of Georgia. Later, Jordan worked with the NAACP, Southern Regional Council, and the Voter Education Project. He also served for nearly 30 years as an active, supportive and dedicated member of LDF’s Board of Directors. Jordan also served as executive director of the United Negro College Fund and president of the National Urban League.
As a pioneering and influential business figure, Jordan championed and mentored Black senior executives, University leaders, and politicians at local, state and national levels. He also continued his lifelong commitment to civil rights, advising and supporting civil rights leaders across the country. The endowed chair was created in Jordan’s namesake to continue his legacy of civil rights activism.
“Sherrilyn Ifill has dedicated her professional life to protecting civil rights, serving at the helm of one of our nation’s most important civil rights litigation organizations, founded by Howard Law alumnus and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall,” said Wayne A. I. Frederick, MD, MBA, Howard University president. “When we consider the legacy of legal giants like Justice Marshall and Vernon Jordan, Ms. Ifill stands out as an exemplar of that vibrant legacy. She stands on their shoulders, while paving her own path as a litigator and leader in the fight to protect civil rights in the 21st century. She is an experienced educator committed to teaching the next generation of legal minds. We are thrilled to welcome Ms. Ifill to our academic community as the endowed chair in civil rights and look forward to the valuable contributions she will make in this position.”
As the Vernon Jordan Chair, Ifill will launch a multi-disciplinary center focused on promoting the vision and values articulated in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution as the central source of America’s post-Civil War identity. The 14thAmendment Center for Law & Democracy will be based at Howard Law School but undertaken in collaboration with a variety of institutions in law, business, and the arts, including the Charles Hamilton Houston Center at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Radcliffe Institute.
“At this moment of democratic crisis in our country, we must return to the 14th amendment and its powerful and pragmatic conception of a post-Civil War America grounded in the values of equality, justice and a reimagined vision of citizenship,” said Ifill. “That vision includes a clear-eyed confrontation with the stubborn persistence of white supremacy and its ongoing threat to the promise of our new country.”
Ifill credits Houston, the visionary dean of the Howard University School of Law who mentored Thurgood Marshall and a coterie of legendary attorneys committed to “breaking the back of Jim Crow.” The attorneys incubated the successful legal strategy that resulted in Brown v. Board of Education, as having rescued the 14th Amendment from its post-Reconstruction exile from American life and law in the 20th century.
“For that reason, launching this center at Howard in the 21st century at this time of profound democratic crisis, surrounded by Howard’s impressive faculty and extraordinary students, seems not only appropriate, but imperative,” Ifill continued.
Ifill stepped down from leading the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund in 2022. During the nine years of her leadership, the organization grew five-fold in staff, budget and endowment. Ifill became a leading voice in the nation’s ongoing conversation about race and civil rights.
Prior to leading the LDF, Ifill served as a professor for 20 years at the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, Maryland, where she taught civil procedure and constitutional law, and created a series of innovative clinical offerings in environmental justice, reentry, and reparations.
“We are thrilled to welcome iconic civil rights lawyer, Sherrilyn Ifill, to the Howard University School of Law faculty,” said Howard Law School Dean Danielle R. Holley. “Her passion for justice and equity is the heart of the Houstonian agenda of producing racial justice lawyers. I know Professor Ifill will bring her heralded passion and clarity of vision to the law school community.”
Ifill is a nationally-recognized expert on voting rights and judicial selection. She was appointed to President Biden’s Commission on the Supreme Court. In 2021, “Time” magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Ifill is a recipient of the Radcliffe Medal, the Brandeis Medal, the Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association, and the Gold Medal from the New York State Bar Association. She is also the recipient of numerous honorary doctorates including Georgetown Law School, New York University, and Bard College.
Ifill received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Vassar College, and a J.D. from New York University School of Law. Following law school, she served as a Fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in New York and served for five years as an Assistant Counsel litigating voting rights cases at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Ifill will be a Distinguished Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School in the Fall 2023 where she will teach a 14thAmendment seminar. She will teach a similar seminar at Howard Law School in the Spring. Ifill will also serve as Ford Foundation Fellow at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) beginning in the summer of 2023, where she will undertake a project focused on exploring the values of the 14th Amendment in artistic expression. Ifill’s new book about race and the current democratic crisis in the United States entitled “Is This America?” will be released by Penguin Press in 2024. The 14th Amendment Center’s work at Howard Law School will launch in the 2024-2025 academic year.