Constitution Day events to assess state of the nation today

The Berkeley campus will mark Constitution Day 2012 with a pair of free public events on current civic and political issues and their relevance to the nation’s founding document.

On Wednesday, Sept. 12, three campus scholars will talk on U.S. mass incarceration and its relevance to Constitutional freedoms.

Founders signing the Constitution

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”

With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of the world’s prisoners; its incarceration rate is the highest in the world by far. African Americans are imprisoned at nearly six times the rate of whites. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Plata (2011), many prisoners are held in conditions that violate their Constitutional rights. The high cost of our criminal justice system is borne by the taxpayer.

How did we get to this point, and where can we go from here? On hand to discuss “The Constitutional Crisis of Imprisonment” will be Rebecca McLennan, associate professor of history, and law professors Jonathan Simon and Frank Zimring, all three of whom have written and taught extensively on criminal-justice topics.

The event takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Free Speech Movement Café at Moffitt Library, and is sponsored by the University Library’s FSM Café Programs Committee. For information, e-mail or see the committee website.

A second Constitution Day event will follow on Wednesday, Sept. 19, when Theda Skocpol, a well-known scholar of American and comparative politics, delivers the Jefferson Memorial Lecture on “Obama, the Tea Party and the Future of American Politics.”

A professor of government and sociology at Harvard University and a prolific writer, Skocpol will explore what happened to Obama’s “new New Deal,” why his achievements have enraged opponents more than they have satisfied supporters and how the Tea Party has reshaped American politics. At this moment of economic uncertainty and extreme polarization, as voters prepare to render a verdict on Obama’s historic presidency, she will review its accomplishments and setbacks to see where we might be headed next.

The Jefferson Lecture will be held at 4:10 p.m. in the Toll Room, Alumni House. See the Jefferson Lecture website for additional information.

Federal law requires all schools that receive federal funding to hold educational programs annually to commemorate Constitution Day, which recognizes the signing of the U.S. Constitution by the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 17, 1787.

Related information: the University of California website Constitution Day at UC.