- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

Law experts and officials testified on the Capitol Hill yesterday on the constitutionality of a bill that would give the District one vote in Congress.

The bill, introduced early this year by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s non-voting member of the House, also would give Utah, a primarily Republican state, an extra vote.

The District is not considered a state and does not have voting representatives in the House or in the Senate.

The hearing was held before the House Judiciary Constitution subcommittee.

Supporters say the bill is bipartisan but has a constitutionality issue.

“In granting the District of Columbia a seat in the House of Representatives, the bill potentially puts two sections of the constitution in conflict,” said Rep. Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican and the subcommittee’s chairman. “These are complicated and interesting issues.”

The Constitution says representatives in Congress must be elected by residents of states, which excludes those from the District because it is not a state, some experts say.

Others said yesterday the District is exempt from the rule because of legal precedent and a section of the Constitution known as the “District clause.”

The clause, proponents of the bill say, gives Congress complete control of the District and would allow members to give it a vote if they choose.

“Congress has ample constitutional authority to enact legislation … providing the District be treated as a state for the purposes of representation in the House,” said Adam Charnes, a constitutional lawyer.

John Fortier, from the American Enterprise Institute, said he supports the spirit of the bill but thinks it has serious constitutional challenges.

“At the end of the day, I do not believe this approach is constitutional,” he said. “Why do I believe it is unconstitutional? Because Congress does not have the power to decide who is represented.”

Mr. Fortier said the best option may be to shrink the area known as the District to include only the land surrounding the Mall, the White House, the Senate and other federal buildings while making the residential sections part of Maryland or a separate state.

Mrs. Norton said she is confident the bill will be reviewed next week in the Committee on the Judiciary, then go to a full vote in the House before the end of November, when Congress goes on recess.

“If we are going to be losing on a constitutional basis, we are prepared to do that,” she said. “But that would not be in this committee, that would be in the courts. … We have gotten this far. And if we can keep this a bipartisan bill, it can go all the way.”

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