March 23, 2015

Rep. Clyburn to discuss voting rights issues

by Pete Rosenbery

James ClyburnCARBONDALE, Ill. -- U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn will reflect on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act during a presentation at Southern Illinois University Carbondale on Monday, March 30. 

As assistant Democratic leader, Clyburn, of South Carolina, is the No. 3 ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives. His lecture is set for 7 p.m. in the Student Center Auditorium. Admission is free and the public is encouraged to attend. 

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and the SIU Black Law Student Association (BLSA) are sponsoring the event.

Clyburn is the leadership liaison to the House Appropriations Committee and one of the Democratic Caucus primary liaisons to the White House. President Obama has said Clyburn, who came to Congress in 1993, is “one of a handful of people who, when they speak, the entire Congress listens.” 

“The congressman is one of the most respected leaders in the U.S. House,” David Yepsen, institute director, said. “We are grateful to the Black Law Students for helping to arrange his visit.  His discussion on voting rights issues on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act couldn’t come at a better time.” 

Willie Lyles III, a first-year student at the SIU School of Law, worked as a staff and then legislative assistant for Clyburn for four-and-one-half years from 2008 to 2013. He also interned in Clyburn’s office in 2005 through the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Summer Internship Program.

“As a former staffer, I am excited to have Congressman Clyburn share his experiences and thoughts here at SIU Carbondale,” Lyles said. “As we reflect on the past and look to the future of voting rights in our country, there is no better vessel to talk about the progress we have made and the work still left to do.”

Katie Whitworth, a second-year law student and SIU BLSA president, said the registered student organization is “thrilled” to co-sponsor Clyburn’s appearance.

“Currently, voting is more important than ever and directly relates to the #BlackLivesMatter movement,” she said. “In many states the right to vote is taken from a convicted felon. Mass incarceration all too often targets black communities. The rationales behind these policies leave many questions. Is it reasonable to believe that convicted felons cannot be trusted to choose our leaders? Or is felon disenfranchisement more about taking power from those who can choose a leader who will effectively change the unjust criminal policies that imprison so many people in the first place?”

“Further, race is just part of the analysis when it comes to felon disenfranchisement,” she said. “Over-criminalization and mass incarceration have devastating consequences on people and communities of all races. When it comes to voting, race is often a dividing factor amongst those who have common interests. Even if felons can’t vote, those of us with voting power can organize around common interests that exist across lines of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.”

For more information on this or any other institute program, contact the institute at 618/453-4009 or visit