D.C. Residents Move One Step Closer to Having a Voice
The Senate this morning voted to end debate (ie, kill a filibuster) on legislation to give residents of Washington, D.C., a voting member in the House of Representatives. The count was 62 to 34, with eight Republicans voting for the measure and two Democrats voting against.
The procedural step all but ensures that the bill will become law. (President Obama supported the bill as a senator.)
But it won’t happen without a ton of grumbling from constitutional literalists, who argue that the document grants voting representation only to states. George Will, among the loudest of these voices, made the case in his Washington Post column earlier this month:
The problem is, or should be, that although the Constitution has provisions that allow various interpretations, the following is not one of those provisions: The House shall be composed of members chosen “by the people of the several states.”
But the District is not a state. It is (as the Constitution says in Article I, Section 8 ) “the seat of the government of the United States.” […]
Under the bill, Utah would gain another member of the House, eliminating the criticism that the measure is designed simply to lend advantage to the Democrats.
Will, among other conservatives, fears that giving D.C. a voice in the House will eventually lead to the installation of two voting senators as well. “Which probably is the main objective of the Democrats who are most of the supporters of this end run around the Constitution,” Will wrote.
It’s an elegant case, but so is the counterargument. Here’s former Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican who sponsored the bill as a congressman, explaining to House lawmakers last month why the “not-a-state” theory shouldn’t fly:
Those opposing this bill ignore 200 years of case law and clear instruction from the court that this is a congressional matter requiring a congressional solution. Under opponents’ reading of the Constitution:
• The federal government would not be allowed to impose federal taxes on District residents – the Constitution says direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states;
• District residents would have no right to a jury trial – you have to be from a state to have that right;
• D.C. residents would have no right to sue people from outside D.C. in the federal courts – only people from states have that right;
• The Full Faith and Credit clause would not apply to D.C. – that applies only between the states; and,
• The District would be able to pass laws which interfere with interstate commerce – the Commerce Clause only allows Congress to regulate commerce among the several states.
But in each of those cases the Supreme Court has held that Congress can consider the District a “state” for purposes of applying these fundamental provisions. If Congress has the authority to do so regarding those constitutionally granted rights and duties, there should be no question it has the same authority to protect the most sacred right of every American – to live and participate in a representative republic.
The House Judiciary Committee will mark up the upper chamber’s version of the bill Wednesday, with a floor vote likely to follow next week.