District of Columbia looks forward to representation in Congress

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WASHINGTON -- It has taken a little over 200 years, but Washingtonians finally sense that their quirky status as citizens without voting representation in the U.S. Congress might just be coming to an end.

The self-styled "capital of the free world" has been a democratic black spot for the United States -- drawing sharp criticism from rights groups and even the United Nations.

Residents of the District of Columbia, which is not legally a state, have had to fight for the limited voting rights they have since Congress relocated here from Philadelphia in 1800.

It took until 1961 to gain the right to vote in presidential elections, and they still have no full-fledged member of Congress -- either in the House of Representatives or the Senate -- despite having to pay federal taxes like everyone else.

But a determined grass-roots movement, a Democratic-controlled Congress, a weakened Republican president and a compromise involving far-away Utah has raised hopes that D.C. residents eventually might discard the "Taxation Without Representation" protest messages many carry on their car license plates.

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    Vince Treacy - 4/18/2007

    It is clear that DC deserves representation. Denial of representation violates our founding principle that a government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. The US seeks to spread democracy, but why should dictators abroad pay any attention to it if it will not even let the residents of its Capitol vote?

    The opponents of representation have not made any principled arguments for their position, only expedient ones. But there are many unprincipled reasons that drive the opponents. Many candidly admit they do not want to see any more Democrats in Congress, and thus would continue to deny the vote to DC residents because of their political beliefs. Others privately vote against representation because DC has a black majority. Those people know who they are.

    Many argue that DC residents should just move if they want to vote, but this is not a principled stand. Freed slaves were once told to move to colonies because the US would never grant them equality. The Patriots in 1776 could have moved to England for representation, but they chose self-government. Black people in the southern States were denied the right to vote, but the nation responded with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, not with an order to move. African-American residents to this day encounter housing discrimination, and many are too poor to move to wealthy suburbs. So please drop this argument.

    It is not principled to argue that the founders wanted DC to have no vote, because the political compromises necessary to secure ratification of the Constitution permitted slavery and the fugitive slave act, and denied the vote to women and blacks. The need for a politically neutral, secure Capitol, can be achieved by drawing a capitol district with offices and parks, but no residents, and enough police, building guards and military personnel to defend a small nation.

    The main problem right now, however, is that the Davis-Norton bill, which purports to add a seat to the House by mere legislation, is patently unconstitutional, as testified repeatedly by Professor Jon Turley of GW Law.

    Thus, its opponents are free to take a principled stand. The only constitutional means for representation are statehood, retrocession with the express consent of Maryland [which is lacking] or constitutional amendment. Reuters is incorrect when it says that statehood requires a constitutional amendment, since all states since the first 13 have been admitted by statute.

    A constitutional amendment could validly grant one Representative in the House for D.C. If Davis-Norton were rewritten as a constitutional amendment granting a single voting representative, then there would be no constitutional argument whatsoever against it. Also, the President's signature would not be needed, so there would be no veto threat.

    The proposals for retrocession are idle chatter, since Maryland will not grant its consent. History shows that Alexandria could not be returned to Virginia in 1846 until the state legislature voted its consent.