- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

Members of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday endorsed a bill that would give the District a full vote in Congress, sending the measure to the full chamber for possible passage as early as next week.

“This legislation is an important step in fixing a gaping hole in our democracy,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat and committee chairman. “I hope this time we can be successful in finishing the job.”

Members voted 21-13 to endorse the bill, a roll call that was greeted by applause in the committee chamber. Two Republicans voted to support the measure.

“It’s taken us years to get to this point,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote. “But I feel like we’re now in the game.”

Proponents of the bill, which is similar to a bill tabled last year during the Republican-controlled Congress, said they expect the measure to come before the entire House for consideration as early as next week. Democratic leadership in the House had initially said the bill would come to the floor by the end of the month.

“The strong, Judiciary Committee vote… is a terrific send-off to the House floor” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the bill’s primary sponsor.

The voting rights bill would grant the predominately Democratic District a full vote in the House and create an additional at-large House seat for Utah, a state that votes predominately Republican.

The District has not had a representative with full voting powers in Congress since its creation as the nation’s capital in 1800.

Past measures that would have given the District a vote have made it to the House floor twice. In 1978, a constitutional amendment that would have given the District representation in both the House and the Senate was passed by Congress but failed to be ratified by the required number of states.

In 1993, a measure granting the District statehood was easily defeated in the House by a 277-153 vote.

Proponents of this year’s bill are optimistic it will pass the Democratic-controlled House before moving to the Senate, where its prospects are less certain.

The measure moved through the committee without any amendments attached, although several were proposed by Republican lawmakers and later defeated.

One amendment, offered by Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and ranking minority member of the committee, would have required the bill to come before a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court to review the bill’s constitutionality if challenged. Any appeal of the panel’s decision would then go straight to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Smith said the amendment was needed because a legal challenge to the bill’s constitutionality is almost certain to occur if it passes and could result in “chaos.” Legal experts on Wednesday debated before the committee whether or not the bill is viable under the country’s governing document.

“The bill is either constitutional or it is not,” Mr. Smith said. “Let’s get that resolved as soon as possible.”

Mr. Smith’s amendment was defeated by a 19-15 vote.

Lawmakers also narrowly avoided what could have been several hours of delay in moving the bill caused by partisan bickering.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, introduced an amendment to the bill that would have created congressional districts for military installations and bases with more than 10,000 residents.

Mr. Gohmert said he introduced the amendment to “make an extremely important constitutional point” that if the District could be treated as a state by Congress, as voting rights advocates have argued is justified by case law and the Constitution’s “District clause,” military bases could as well under the same clause.

But Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, accused Mr. Gohmert of delaying committee action on a later markup, and the amendment was called “insulting” by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat.

Mr. Gohmert then began introducing a series of more than 40 amendments that would have specified the creation of congressional districts for individual bases, such as Camp Pendleton in California.

However, after a recess, the congressman agreed to stop introducing the additions.

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