Leon Jaworski Public Program in DC


American Bar Association Leon Jaworski Public Program


Watch a video of the 2014 Leon Jaworski Public Program.

The Vote: When Does Suffrage Become Universal?


This year’s Law Day theme is “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters.” The 2014 Leon Jaworski Public Program will focus on the ideal and practice of universal suffrage, emphasizing and exploring the “every” in the 2014 Law Day theme. Scholars have traced the history of universal suffrage to the democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth century and the subsequent development of the norms and institutions of electoral democracy, beginning in the nineteenth century. The use of the term “universal suffrage” also dates to this period. Considering the fundamental concept of universal suffrage can help illuminate and frame contentious contemporary issues related to citizenship, enfranchisement, and disenfranchisement.

Framing Questions


  • What is universal suffrage? What makes suffrage universal?
  • What is the history of universal suffrage? To what extent has it been achieved? How was this accomplished—historically, politically, legally?
  • How does citizenship, as a value and as a status, shape our understanding of universal suffrage?
  • What is the relationship between universal suffrage and democracy? Is it possible to have one without the other?
  • On what basis should the electorate be restricted or otherwise defined? Citizenship? Residency? Age? Felony convictions? Mental incompetence? Who does universal suffrage include? Exclude? Why?
  • Is universal suffrage an essential legal-political value or norm? Is it truly achievable? An aspirational ideal?


James R. Silkenat
President, American Bar Association


Pauline Weaver
National Law Day Chair

Jane Harman
Director, President and CEO
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


John Milewski
Director of Digital Programming
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


Roger Clegg
President and General Counsel
Center for Equal Opportunity

Aurelian Craiutu
Professor of Political Science and Director, Tocqueville Program
Indiana University, Bloomington

Hendrik Hertzberg
Senior Editor, The New Yorker and Board Member

Claudio Lopez-Guerra
Research Professor
Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE)
Department of Political Studies

Janai S. Nelson
Professor of Law and Associate Dean of Faculty Scholarship
St. John’s University School of Law