D.C. voting rights always has been a heavy political lift inside the Beltway, and the latest version poised to be voted on this week is more of the same.
Detractors include a conservative House member who says the D.C. Voting Rights Act doesn’t pass constitutional muster and two longtime voting rights advocates - the League of Women Voters and a backer of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
The House D.C. Voting Rights Act is similar to legislation passed last year in the Senate. It would grant full voting rights to the District’s nonvoting House delegate and give Utah a fourth seat. But instead of representing a congressional district drawn by the Utah Legislature, the new lawmaker would represent the entire state. The bill also would repeal some gun laws.
Mrs. Norton, a Democrat who has made voting rights a major congressional priority since her first election in 1990, said supporters have to face reality and take the bitter with the sweet.
“The Democratic majorities in the Senate and in the House are already diminishing and are expected to be reduced even further,” said Mrs. Norton, who is seeking re-election, last week. “Moreover, this is the first time we have had a president in office who will sign the bill along with majorities in Congress to pass it. I have given this fight all that I had. There is nothing left to do but make the hard decision.”
On Monday, Mary G. Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters, and Billie Day, president of the D.C. league, said, “There are two fundamental responsibilities that all elected officials must fulfill: protecting our democratic rights as Americans and protecting our lives and safety. Asking citizens to sacrifice their safety in order to have representation in Congress is unacceptable.”
Human rights advocate Timothy Cooper, executive director of D.C.-based Worldrights, who has stood side by side with Mrs. Norton in the decades-long fight for voting rights, called the bill a “public disaster.”
Mr. Cooper, who told The Washington Times on Monday that he is in Singapore, said in his Sunday blog at dcwatch.com: “Does the voting rights brain trust actually believe that winning minimal representational rights in Congress ranks higher on the scale of achievement than protecting public safety and ensuring the right to life? … Norton’s bill is a public disaster. New leadership and better ideas are required to move the voting rights cause forward.”
Gun-control advocates are disenchanted with the bill because it would, among other things, loosen restrictions on the legal possession of automatic weapons and so-called sniper rifles.
But Second Amendment champions have concerns, too.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and long-standing advocate of D.C. voting rights, has threatened to filibuster the bill if it reaches his chamber.
“Anyone who believes in what is left of federalism in America, regardless of their party or ideology, should oppose this legislation,” Mr. Hatch said on Thursday. “Utah deserves an additional seat in the House, but like every other state, it should have the freedom to elect its House members from regular districts. The federal government has no business dictating to any state which approach they must use.”
Rep. Candice S. Miller, Michigan Republican, said Monday that while the measure is well-intended it contradicts the U.S. Constitution on two fronts. She takes issue with states’ rights and constitutional mandates.
In an article Monday on humanevents.com, Mrs. Miller points out that Article 1 of the Constitution stipulates that “representatives … shall be apportioned among the several states.” She then makes the argument that only by amending the Constitution could the nation’s capital gain a House seat because the founding document also gives “Congress exclusive jurisdiction ‘in all cases whatsoever over the District of Columbia.’ ”
Unless and until Congress is “relieved of all responsibility for the District … there will always be a question as to the constitutionality of a potential D.C. representative,” Mrs. Miller wrote.
The last congressional vote on D.C. statehood failed 277-153 in 1993, during Mrs. Norton’s second term.