Young Leaders of 2017: Libby Skarin

By Denise DePaolo

Images by Elizabeth Lucille Photography

It’s time to recognize those who stand out and show great promise for the year ahead. Each year, 605 selects a group of young leaders from a pile of nominations – all qualified for recognition in their own way. This year’s honorees each bring something amazing to their community and state, through their tireless belief that they as individuals can make a difference.

“She works tirelessly to work within the legislature and community to advance and protect civil liberties for all South Dakotans. In her quest to level the social and political playing field in our state, Libby reaches across the aisle and across communities to ensure that no one is left behind.” – From the nomination for Libby Skarin

Libby Skarin has always been a pot-stirrer. She grew up admiring the heroes in her books who would stand up for the right thing, even when it was difficult.

“I’ve always liked having discussions and debating issues,” she explained. “Maybe that’s what drew me to the law.”

It’s also why she loves her job as policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota. In this role, Skarin manages policy work day to day, shapes long term goals, and spends the entire legislative session in Pierre lobbying. She took the position in 2014, after a stint as an assistant attorney general in Iowa, where she worked on child support issues. Skarin describes the ACLU as her “gold star dream job.” So when she was moving to Sioux Falls with her now-husband, and there was an opening, she could hardly believe her luck.

“My first exposure to the ACLU was as an undergrad studying journalism,” she remembered. “One of my classes was legal and ethical issues in communication. We talked a lot about the first amendment and the ACLU has been hugely important in the development of first amendment law. A lot of the major cases that have been litigated, the ACLU was a part of. So I was already very attracted to the organization. It isn’t afraid to take very principled stances on things that might upset people, but they’re very core to what the first amendment requires or what the constitution requires. And it’s about standing up for those critical principles.”

Although she admits the ACLU gets a reputation for being a liberal organization, Skarin asserts that it exists for everyone. In South Dakota, many of the issues it works on tend to align with liberal principles, including reproductive rights and LGBT issues, but as the only full time lobbyist in Pierre working on civil right issues, she works closely with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

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To read the full profile, pick up the January issue or click here.