There has been increased debate recently about whether or not the District of Columbia should have a voting member of the House of Representatives, just as each of the fifty states do. Those in favor of a voting member of the House tend to cite the “taxation without representation” argument as well as the provisions of the “Seat of Government” Clause, or “District” Clause of the U. S. Constitution. Those opposed to granting the residents of D. C. a voting member in the House generally claim that voting representatives are limited to the states by the Constitution.
Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has expressed her support for Congressional voting rights for D. C. , and it is widely expected that she will push for passage of House Resolution 5388, the D. C. Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act. But will it pass, and more importantly, should the residents of the District of Columbia have a voting member of the House of Representatives?
Opponents of H. R. 5388 say that Article I, Section 2 of the U. S. Constitution grants to states alone the power of the vote in the House. Here’s what the Constitution says: “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second year by the people of the several states…. ” It goes on to say, “No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty-five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen. ”
So the argument goes something like this: the Constitution is very clear in its wording, in which the STATES are represented in the House. The District of Columbia is not a state, and is therefore not entitled to a voting representative in the House. Currently, the District is represented by a delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is not allowed to vote on legislation before the House. The problem with this set-up is that the residents of D. C. are taxpayers, are subject to the laws passed by the Congress, and are subject to compulsory military service if such service is ever enacted again. Yet, they do not have a say in the policies and laws adopted by their government.
Surely the founding fathers of this nation did not envision the denial of voting rights to citizens, and they most surely did not envision the likelihood of the large residential population within the District that is present today. So how do we fix this so that the residents of D. C. are fairly represented in the House? There are two approaches, one that will take a considerable amount of time and one that can be accomplished much more quickly.
The first, and most protracted, way to get D. C. residents a voting member of the House of Representatives is by Constitutional Amendment. Most individuals who interpret the Constitution strictly view this route as the only way around the provisions in Article 1, Section 2 concerning members of the House. And there is precedent. Amendment XXIII to the Constitution, ratified on March 29, 1961 gave the residents of D. C. the right to vote for President, even though they are not inhabitants of a state. But the process for amending the Constitution is a lengthy one, and there is an easier and faster way.
Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution give Congress the power “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of Government of the United States…. ” This “Seat of Government” clause or “District” clause seems to grant Congress sole authority over anything and everything pertaining to the District of Columbia, which is our national seat of government. Many Constitutional legal experts have interpreted this clause as such and have cited it as the only authority Congress needs to transform Delegate Norton’s seat into Representative Norton’s seat.
This brings us back to House Resolution 5388. There is much support from Democrats and Republicans alike for passage of the District’s Voting Rights Act, and it is unlikely to be opposed by anyone who could stop it. Certainly someone or some group will challenge the Constitutionality of the bill, and that is fine. Our system of government is designed for that. In the end, though, I suspect the Supreme Court will uphold the Act and the residents of the District of Columbia will get their voting member of the House.