Law Review Symposium: The Struggle to Vote
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Posted by: John White
On Friday, March 27th, the David A. Clarke School of Law held its annual Law Review Symposium entitled The Struggle to Vote: the Right to Political Self-Determination in the District of Columbia and Beyond.
Top, l-r: Seigfreid Weissner, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Dean Shelley Broderick, Luqman Barwari;
Bottom, l-r: Timothy Cooper, Wade Henderson, Walter Smith, Johnny Barnes, Ilir Zherka, Katherine Tackett.
The program looked at recognition under International Law of a right to political self-determination and explored the D.C. vote through that lens. Two panels presented different aspects of this issue. The morning panel began with Dr. iur. Seigfreid Weissner giving a keynote address about indigenous peoples and their struggle for recognition and a political voice in several parts of the world. Mr. Luqman Barwari from the Kurdish National Congress and Mr. Timothy Cooper of World Rights then addressed the audience. Mr. Barwari discussed the plight of the Kurdish people who have been seeking representation in the governments of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria for decades. Mr. Cooper discussed his decade-long effort to litigate the issue of D.C. voting rights in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and described his new strategy to pursue domestic litigation based on customary international law. The morning program concluded with a lively conversation between Dr. Weissner and Mr. Cooper, moderated by DCSL 2L Katherine Tackett, regarding the application of international law concepts to the practical question of D.C. voting rights. The panelists and the audience spoke about the ways that an international law perspective can revitalize the long debate about the political voice of the citizens of the District and about the challenges and advantages of pursuing international litigation in domestic courts.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton began the afternoon program with a rousing address expressing her hopes for a political voice for the people of the District and her indignation at the tactics being used to actively disenfranchise those citizens. Our afternoon panel was moderated by DCSL 3L Elizabeth Crow and included: Wade Henderson, President and C.E.O. of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Walter Smith, Executive Director of the D.C. Appleseed Center; Johnny Barnes, Executive Director of the National Capitol Area ACLU; Ilir Zherka, executive Director of D.C. Vote; and At-Large DC Councilmember Phil Mendelson. These participants are the leading lights of the long struggle to secure political freedom for the citizens of the District. Their discussion focused on the current state of the D.C. House Voting Rights Act and the state of the political rights of the citizens of the District.
Both panels were well attended and resulted in lively discussions amongst the panelists and the members of the audience. Many different opinions were expressed but all of the participants shared the view that the citizens of the District deserve a real voice in their government and that all possible solutions should be explored. At this critical moment in the history of the struggle for representation for the citizens of the District, the Symposium provided a forum for the leaders of that effort to talk about their progress and to consider a new perspective.