The United States Constitution was trashed last week when the Senate voted to give a voting seat in the House of Representatives to the District of Columbia and the State of Utah. Why Utah? Hey, it’s a Republican state and Democrats, who will have a lock on D.C. voters for generations, needed GOP support.
The Constitution, which in the very first article states plainly that only states may elect representatives, is likely to be further trashed this week when the House approves this ill-advised measure, which was loaded with irrelevant amendments regarding D.C. gun laws and a ban on reinstating the so-called Fairness Doctrine to lure or repel support, depending on one’s view. It will be up to a conference committee to sort out the chaff from the shaft.
Assuming this bill becomes law, as President Obama wants, all sides agree it will be litigated to the Supreme Court. Supporters cite a section of the Constitution that seems pretty weak gruel to us: a section stating Congress must “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District. That’s exactly what Congress has done since the District was created.
When Congress wanted D.C. residents to have a vote for President and Vice President, they appropriately passed and forwarded to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment - which the states ratified as the 23rd Amendment in 1961. When Congress in 1978 wanted to give D.C. a vote in the House, it appropriately passed the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment and asked the states to ratify it - which they did not do. That’s the proper constitutional procedure.
Or, if D.C. residents prefer, they can request retrocession to Maryland, as citizens on the Virginia side of the District did in 1846 when they voted to return their area to Virginia. Or, since it’s been no secret for several centuries that the District has no vote, residents can move a few miles to a neighboring state if it is really important to them. Or Congress can end the “taxation without representation” problem by abolishing the federal tax for District residents. Fat chance. There were, and are, many ways to do this right; Congress has chosen the one way to do it wrong.
Let’s be intellectually honest here - neither the District of Columbia nor Utah is any more deserving of the House seat likely to be handed to it than Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, or U.S. Virgin Islands, all of which are U.S. “insular areas” (either commonwealths, territories, or organized entities). While they are not constitutionally entitled to U.S. citizenship under the Citizenship Clause, Congress has extended citizenship rights to all inhabited territories (with the exception of American Samoa, which is officially unorganized), and these citizens may vote and run for office in any U.S. jurisdiction in which they are residents.
Residents of these insular areas do not pay U.S. federal taxes, but most pay taxes to the territorial governments, at the same rates as U.S. federal income taxes. Give them a House vote. Give Alaska another House vote (it’s our largest state). Give Rhode Island another House vote (it’s our smallest state in size). Give Wyoming another House vote (it’s our smallest state in population and probably feels lonely).
Let’s assume this becomes law. In what we hope is the unlikely event that the Supreme Court allows this deviation from the entire history of how Congress and courts have viewed the Constitution, it won’t take a New York second for Democrats in Washington (i.e., 92.9 percent of the voters, based on the last presidential election) and in Congress to cry crocodile tears that D.C. is still not getting fair representation because voters aren’t represented by senators. Can two new Democrats be far behind in the Senate? No.