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K. McKanders
Karla McKanders, JD | Director, Thurgood Marshall Institute

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Thurgood Marshall Institute

On behalf of The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Isaacson, Miller is proud to announce that Karla McKanders, JD has been appointed as the new Director of the Thurgood Marshall Institute, the multidisciplinary research and advocacy center within LDF that was launched in 2015.

McKanders comes to LDF from Vanderbilt University Law School, where she has taught Critical Race Theory and Immigration Law for the past six years. She was also the Associate Director of Vanderbilt’s Clinical Program and served as the founding director of the school’s Immigration Practice Clinic. That work included the supervision of students who provide vital representation to asylum seekers and unaccompanied minor children in humanitarian immigration cases. 

Earlier in June 2023, McKanders accepted the prestigious American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) 2023 Elmer Fried Excellence in Teaching Award. In presenting the award, the AILA described her as a “brilliant leader” who has been leading a community of advocates and scholars “at a time of tremendous pressures on the humanitarian and due process aspects of immigration and asylum law.” 

McKanders, who is chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration, was also a visiting associate professor of law at Howard University School of Law during the 2016-17 academic year. There, she directed the Civil Rights Clinic and facilitated collaboration between LDF and the Advancement Project that resulted in the submission of amicus briefs in civil rights and social justice litigation before the Supreme Court. 

Before her time at Vanderbilt, McKanders held a tenured associate professorship at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Prior to her academic career, she clerked for the Honorable Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, in Detroit. She obtained her law degree from Duke University and completed her undergraduate studies at Spelman College.

Ernest Brooks led this search with Kahn Lee and Clay Batley.