Ifill at Washington College

March 3, 2010
By

CHESTERTOWN, MD

The 2009 confirmation hearings of the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, rekindled an intense debate about the role of race in judicial decision-making. Noted civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill will explore this topic when she presents “Wise Latinas, Black Raconteurs, and White Umpires: Conceptions of Race and Judging in Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings, 1955-2009,” at Washington College’s Litrenta Lecture Hall on Thursday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m.

Since 1955, when John Marshall Harlan was nominated to the Supreme Court just after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, questions about race have played a central role in Supreme Court confirmation hearings. The contention surrounding Justice Sotomayor’s nomination is only the latest chapter in a much longer story.

Ifill, one of the strongest voices advocating greater diversity on the Court, will be in residence at Washington College from March 15-19 as this year’s Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellow at the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. Professor of Law at the University of Maryland School of Law, Ifill is a nationally recognized advocate for civil rights, voting rights, and judicial diversity. She offers commentary on race and the law on CNN, NBC Nightly News, and C-Span, and is a regular op-ed contributor to the Baltimore Sun and the Afro-American.

In her current project on the judicial selection process, Ifill argues that all judges – not just minorities – are affected by their own background and life experiences, and that diversity on the bench is key to creating a Court that can wisely interpret the law. If this is true, she maintains, it follows that the popular perception of white male judges as impartial “umpires” and female and minority judges as inherently biased is fundamentally flawed.

Prior to joining the University of Maryland faculty, Ifill litigated voting rights cases for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. An advocate of restorative justice for past racial wrongs, Ifill is the author of On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century (Beacon Books, 2007), which explores the lingering effects of lynching here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Established through a generous gift from Maurice Meslans and Margaret Holyfield of St. Louis, the annual Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellowship brings to campus an individual engaged in the study or interpretation of African-American history and related fields. Besides providing the recipient an opportunity for a week of focused writing, the fellowship also offers Washington College students exposure to some of today’s leading interpreters of African-American culture. During her week in Chestertown, Ifill will speak with students and faculty about her research, and her experiences with restorative justice processes.

Litrenta Lecture Hall is located in the John S. Toll Science Center. Ifill’s talk, which is co-sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, the Black Studies Program, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and the Pre-Law Program, is free and open to the public.

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