In Congress, D.C. slouching toward suffrage

Somebody get this Congresswoman a megaphone … and a full-floor vote

District citizens troubled by the irony of living in the nation’s capital without much representation to speak of themselves may soon get a break.

The Joe Liberman-sponsored D.C. Voting Rights bill has cleared the filibuster mark in the Senate with a vote of 62-34—the farthest a D.C. voting rights bill has ever gotten—and most expect the House to pass a similar bill shortly (both would also allot Utah, who some feel deserved an extra Congressional district based on the 2000 Census, an additional vote, which has helped shore up Republican support).

So our ten-term Congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton (above), is going to get a full-floor vote, not just a committee vote, on House legislation just like everyone else, right?

Not so fast, say D.C. Vote opponents. According to the New York Times, “The fight to overturn what advocates for the district’s voting rights call ‘taxation without representation’’ will likely wind up as a constitutional test in the courts, even if this measure is signed into law.”  Objections to a D.C. vote abound, including Senator Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) insistence that Congress already represents us (and how).

But the biggest problem, these foes of justice say, is that votes in Congress are for states. And the Constitution does indeed read, “House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.”

Marc Fisher to the rescue! To the question, “Is this Constitutional?” he answers that it’s “As Constitutional As You Want It To Be.” Golly! Writing, “the Constitution talks about ‘the several States’ in several places, and nobody has sought to exclude Washington residents from the laws, benefits and responsibilities laid out in those other clauses of the document.” He makes several excellent points in this matter:

  • D.C. must follow laws that govern interstate commerce—which is, semantically anyway, for states only
  • We can join the army—for states only
  • The rulings of Federal Courts apply to the District—which is for cases involving states only
  • We pay federal taxes—lots of them—which are fore citizens of states only

Fisher’s rightness, however, isn’t going to keep D.C. out of court if the bill—for which President Barack Obama has indicate support—becomes law. In fact, Politico calls a court challenge to a law giving D.C. the vote “inevitable.” So those “Taxation Without Representation” license plates may yet stick around.

Photo taken from Flickr user KCIvey under a Creative Commons license.

2 Comments on “In Congress, D.C. slouching toward suffrage

  1.  by  Nick Troiano

    The think the bill before the Congress is unconstitutional. Only states can be apportioned representatives, DC is not a state, thus DC cannot be apportioned representatives. I write about it here: http://ifwecankeepit.blogspot.com/2009/02/protecting-and-defendingones-party.html.

    I’m all for representation – but let it be done in the right way, through a constitutional amendment. It happened before when DC residents got the right to vote for President, and attempted for this purpose before but failed.

    While Fisher raises some interesting points, this case is much different. For instance, if it is treated as a state, the District must also receive two Senators. I don’t think he or anyone else supports that.

    Washington’s Farewell:

    “If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”

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