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Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to speak on electoral reform

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. will deliver this year's Tresolini Lecture.

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), a leading advocate for electoral reform, will deliver this year’s Tresolini Lecture at Lehigh at 8 p.m. Monday, April 11 in Packard Auditorium.

Jackson’s talk on “Protecting the Right to Vote in America” is free and open to the public.

“Voting in the United States is based on the constitutional principle of state’s rights,” Jackson says. “The word ‘vote’ appears in the Constitution only with respect to non-discrimination, which means that the so-called ‘right to vote’ is a state right. Only a Constitutional amendment would give every American an individual affirmative citizenship right to vote.”

Jackson also notes that within the states’ rights voting system, there are approximately 13,000 separately administered voting jurisdictions in the United States.

“Our states’ rights voting system is structured to be separate and unequal,” he says.

The issue of electoral reform should be a bipartisan concern, says Brian Pinaire, assistant professor of political science at Lehigh and organizer of the Tresolini Lecture.

"Joseph Stalin is supposed to have said that 'the people who vote don't decide an election, the people who count the votes do.' You don't have a fair game unless you have free, fair and transparent rules and procedures.” Pinaire says. “That is the real issue here and that is why everyone should have an interest in reforming the electoral system in the United States."

Civil rights leader, author, and congressman

Jackson took his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 12, 1995, and is only the 91st African-American ever elected to Congress.

Since he joined Congress, Jackson has focused on electoral reform and other civil rights issues. He currently sits on the House Appropriations Committee, serving as the fifth-ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and is the second-ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs.

His leadership also helped create the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health in 2001, hailed by many minority health experts as the most important civil rights legislation since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Jackson also secured funding for the Institute of Medicine's 2002 report on health disparities, "Unequal Treatment.”

Prior to his election to Congress, Jackson served as the national field director of the National Rainbow Coalition—the organization founded by his father, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. In this role, the younger Jackson instituted a national non-partisan program that successfully registered millions of new voters.

He also created a voter education program to teach citizens the importance of participating in the political process, including how to use technology to win elections and more effectively participate in politics.

Born during the voting rights struggle on March 11, 1965, Jackson’s life has been punctuated by pivotal events in the ongoing struggle for civil rights for minorities. He spent his 21st birthday in a jail cell in Washington, D.C. for taking part in a protest against apartheid at the South African Embassy. He also demonstrated weekly in front of the South African Consulate in Chicago, and shared the stage with Nelson Mandela during the South African leader’s historic speech following a 27-year imprisonment in Cape Town.

Jackson is a magna cum laude graduate of North Carolina A & T State University in Greensboro, N.C., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business management. Three years later, he earned a master’s degree in theology from the Chicago Theological Seminary, and in 1993, received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Illinois.

He has also been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from the Chicago Theological Seminary, Governors State University, North Carolina A & T State University, Charles R. Drew Univ. of Medicine and Science, Meharry Medical College and Morehouse School of Medicine.

A Civil War buff, Jackson is also the co-author of four books: A More Perfect Union: Advancing New American Rights (2001), Legal Lynching (1996), It’s About the Money (1999), and Legal Lynching II (2001).

The Rocco J. Tresolini Lectureship in Law was established in 1978, in memory of one of Lehigh’s most distinguished teachers and scholars, Rocco Tresolini (1920-1967). As professor and chair of the department of government, Tresolini contributed to the understanding of law and its relation to government. The endowed lectureship was made possible by the generous gifts of Lehigh’s Class of 1961, and other alumni and friends of the university.

Past speakers have included U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Arthur Goldberg, attorneys David Boies, Barry Scheck, and Morris Dees; and journalists Nina Totenberg and Anthony Lewis.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Monday, April 11, 2005

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