Biden should choose Ifill for Attorney General

Race and Politics

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Sean Yoes

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
syoes@afro.com

The time is nigh for Donald John Trump, perhaps the most criminal man ever to occupy the Oval Office.

His legacy is chaos, corruption and death strewn throughout. But, perhaps in the end it was the ham handed attempt at a coup that was too much even for the man who was arguably the most criminal attorney general in the nation’s history.

On Dec. 14, Trump announced William Barr will be stepping down as attorney general on Dec. 23, “to spend the holidays with his family,” Trump said via Twitter of course.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

President-elect Joe Biden, who officially secured the Electoral College victory the same day Trump announced Barr’s resignation (probably Trump’s petty way of trying to step on the Electoral College vote news), has been methodically announcing his Cabinet picks en route to the official transition of power on Jan. 20. And Biden’s most consequential decision may be who he nominates to be the next Attorney General of the United States.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, should not only be on Biden’s radar to be the nation’s next attorney general, she should be his choice.

I am not a legal scholar. However, my mentor University of Maryland law professor Larry S. Gibson is.

“Sherrilyn Ifill would be an excellent attorney general,” Gibson said to me succinctly. “She is brilliant, articulate, an experienced administrator, and a fantastic lawyer.”

I believe I first met Ifill several years ago when I interviewed her during the promotion of her book, On the Courthouse Lawn:Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-first Century, published in Dec. 2007, by Beacon Press.

Ifill, who at the time was a law professor at the University of Maryland (and a colleague of Gibson’s) talked with me at length about the murder of George Armwood, the last official lynching in Maryland October 18, 1933, in Princess Anne, Maryland on the Eastern Shore. 

Subsequently, I reached out to her on a few different occasions for her judicial insight on various matters confronting the nation. But, mostly I have watched from afar with admiration as she has ascended during her career.

Prior to her two decades of teaching law at the University of Maryland, Ifill was a fellow at the ACLU and then served for five years as assistant counsel in the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund’s New York office. That’s where the young lawyer began to build a reputation litigating voting rights cases, including her role in the successful litigation of the landmark Voting Rights Act case Houston Lawyers’ Association vs. Attorney General of Texas. The 6-3 Supreme Court ruling was decided June 20,1991.

During her time at the University of Maryland, Ifill launched several initiatives, among them one of the nation’s first legal clinics that worked on behalf of formerly incarcerated individuals trying to successfully re-enter society.

As the leader of the NAACP’S Legal Defense and Educational Fund, she plays an essential role during this unprecedented time of racial reckoning in this nation’s history.

“We litigate cases, in some instances in the past we have co-counseled cases with the Department of Justice,” said Ifill recently when she participated in the meeting of the big seven civil rights organizations, with President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris. “We continue to monitor consent decrees that are existing and we have watched the decimation of that department during the Trump years through various attorney generals.”

During that meeting Ifill also spoke to the urgency of protecting the Black vote.

“About the importance of support for legislation that will not only restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act, but extend beyond that to create a full package of affirmative and progressive voting measures,” she said.

Ifill has consistently and vigorously fought for Black people, Brown people and other disenfranchised Americans with incisive intellect and moral clarity for decades.

As Biden ponders who will be the nation’s next attorney general, it seems clear the United States Department of Justice has lost its way under the criminal Trump regime and specifically Barr’s corrupt, catastrophic lack of leadership. 

The last thing the country needs is another sycophant like Barr. Nor do we need lofty leadership, a man or woman somehow hovering above the fray at the DOJ. No, the country needs the next attorney general to get into the building, roll up their sleeves and plunge their hands into the murky mess left by Barr, Jeff Sessions and Matt Whitaker, the inexplicable gentleman who bridged the gap between the two. And very importantly, the next attorney general must work intentionally to help restore the tattered morale of the DOJ.

The DOJ must plot a new course.

“We need an attorney general who has a demonstrated record of criminal justice reform, as well as civil rights,” said Ifill during that meeting with Biden and Harris.  “We also need an attorney general who knows the building, the main Justice Department building, understands how it works, understands what the powers are, understands how to deal with a department that has been decimated.”

The nation needs Sherrilyn Ifill.

Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Senior Reporter and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.