April 22, 2007
The House of Representatives reconvened this week after its Easter Recess. A key legislative item is the renewed effort to begin the process of transmogrifying the District of Columbia into the functional equivalent of a State of the Union—and to do so without the benefit of an amendment to the Constitution. Never underestimate how wily liberal leadership can be. The proposal is claimed to be nothing more than according the District’s Delegate to the House full voting privileges. The pitch is wrapped in the appealing clothing of citizenship, democracy, enfranchisement, voting rights, combined with a racial tinge (as though an opponent were a racist).
(Not surprisingly, quieter and less influential folk are interested in pursuing Congressional seats for Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands “ and Puerto Rico if the faltering independence movement fails were the D.C. measure to succeed.)
The reality is easy to come by. Read the Washington Post, the Washington Times, or any other cognizant publication, or talk with, or listen to, a D. C. politician or anybody remotely familiar with D. C. politics. The real effort is to create the functional equivalent of one Member of the House of Representatives and two United States Senators. It’s the PR and legislative equivalent of the proverbial camel’s nose in the tent but it’s far cleverer than any beast of burden. Begin with a House seat; keep the two D.C. so-called “shadow United States Senators” out of sight; avoid – maybe, desecrate? – the Constitution step by step.
The cause has the oft-touted appeal of “bipartisanship” because a Republican Member (himself an adroit and ambitious leader and PR master) loudly co-sponsors the House measure.
The House is likely to pass the measure, the Senate less likely. Presidential advisors are advising President George W. Bush to veto (which veto almost assuredly would be sustained). If the proposal jumps these hurdles a Constitutional challenge in the Federal Judiciary would follow. The Congressional Research Service already has opined that the measure is unconstitutional. Those few legal scholars who have researched the question are not in accord with one another. (I find the negative scholarship more persuasive than the affirmative but have not researched independently.)
A Constitutional amendment is unlikely to succeed, requiring, as it would, ratification by 38 State legislatures. In 1978 Congress sent to the States a proposed amendment which would have granted the District of Columbia a voting House seat. Few State legislatures ratified the proposed amendment; the (very generous) seven-year period for ratification expired; no amendment.
The option of retrocession to the State of Maryland remains, cumbersome though it may be to achieve in light of D. C. politicians” self-interest. If the principal goal of D. C. politicians were fully to enfranchise D. C. residents on the same basis as residents of the fifty States retrocession would achieve the goal. D. C. residents would become Marylanders, just as, since 1847, D. C. residents and their successors west of the Potomac River have been Virginians. Those residents would fit in well politically with Maryland, a liberal State. The Nation’s Capital, as the Framers intended, would comprise that small and monumental area housing the key offices (and the many monuments) of the Federal Government—the White House and major federal agencies, Congress, the Supreme Court. (Several key offices—e.g., the Department of Defense—are already outside the District of Columbia, for which their functioning clearly is none the worse.) The Nation’s Capital would be just that, not a city embarrassingly noted for its crime – and for a local government of unmatched proportionately numerous bureaucracy and (at best, erratic) incompetence.
—A Free Congress Foundation Commentary
Marion Edwyn Harrison is President of, and Counsel to, The Free Congress Foundation.