- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2000

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld a lower-court decision that bars the District of Columbia from voting in Congress.
By an 8-1 vote, the high court affirmed the ruling of a three-judge federal panel that said the Constitution and previous Supreme Court decisions prevent the District's half-million residents from having direct congressional representation.
The lone justice to disagree was Justice John Paul Stevens. He voted to review one of the two suits appealing the lower-court decree.
"The Supreme Court decision is disappointing. It's the last-gasp judicial effort to get the District the vote," said lawyer Charles A. Miller, who represented one of the two groups filing an appeal.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat, said residents should not be disheartened by the decision.
"I was prepared to win in court, and I was prepared to lose in court, but I have never been prepared to lose the fight," Mrs. Norton told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday afternoon.
She said she will meet tomorrow with the mayor and D.C. Council to plan strategy.
The two suits that went to the lower court were based on somewhat different arguments. But both ultimately sought to obtain full voting rights for Washingtonians, whose right to vote was extended to presidential elections in 1964. In 1970, citizens in the District obtained the right to elect a non-voting delegate to the House.
The D.C. residents who brought suit in general claim Washingtonians are taxpayers who serve in the armed forces and fight in the nation's wars but are deprived of the fundamental right to have a vote in the Congress that declares war and levies taxes.
In rendering its opinion in the suits brought by some 75 D.C. citizens, the lower court pointed out that the Constitution specifically limits to "the People of the several States" the right to choose members of the House of Representatives. Because the District is not a state, its people do not have the right shared by all other citizens.
The judges added in their 2-1 decision in March that they were "not blind to the inequity of the situation."
The constitutional clause denying the District a House vote made sense in 1787 when the Constitution was adopted. There was no permanent capital city then.
In 1790, when a capital was being planned, it might have been made a state. But leaders in both the North and the South wanted it in their region. To end the bickering, Alexander Hamilton proposed that the capital be located on federal land.
Hamilton coaxed the North to accept having the capital in the South if the South yielded on certain other issues.
Consequently, the capital was established on land ceded by Maryland and Virginia, and the federal government was given complete control of the capital's government. The Congress has granted voting rights to the District's residents in piecemeal fashion ever since.
Now those involved in securing full voting rights for Washingtonians say they must again appeal to the Congress.
"The Supreme Court decision puts us back to where we were," says Jamin B. Raskin, an American University law professor who took part in preparing one of the cases presented to the lower court.
Along with Mrs. Norton, Mr. Miller and others, D.C. voting rights activists will be formulating new plans in their campaign, Mr. Raskin said.
"We will argue that Congress could protect its interest in the District without denying people congressional representation. The problem will be to get a consensus solution."
Mr. Raskin explained there will be a debate over whether D.C. voters should have the right to representation only in the House, only in the Senate or in both.
And he said, "There will be differences on whether the vote should be granted by making the District a state or through some other method."
The idea of granting statehood to the District has been around for 30 years. In a 1980 election, a majority of Washingtonians voted for statehood and in 1982, city representatives drew up a state Constitution. But the statehood movement foundered in Congress.
D.C. residents pay federal taxes and are entitled to vote for president, but their congressional delegate, Mrs. Norton, is not allowed to vote on the House floor. Efforts to amend the Constitution to provide voting representation have failed.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court also:
Agreed to decide whether Congress unlawfully required federal judges in office since at least 1983 to begin paying Medicare and Social Security taxes. The court said it will hear the government's argument that imposing the tax on sitting judges did not reduce their salaries in violation of the Constitution.
Appointed a law professor and former Supreme Court law clerk to help referee a dispute between Alaska and the federal government over who controls a large swath of coastal water in protected areas.


John Godfrey contributed to this report.

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