A proposal is making it’s way through Congress that would give the District of Columbia’s Representative in Congress a vote on the House floor:
A congressional committee approved a bill yesterday granting the District a full vote in the House of Representatives, giving the measure its first victory in what will probably be weeks of fierce wrangling as it moves through Congress.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted 24 to 5 for the bill, an endorsement its supporters expected. But in a likely sign of things to come, there was feisty sparring, with opponents calling the measure unconstitutional and marshaling amendments to derail it.
One amendment, which was successfully attached to the bill, seeks to prevent the District from eventually getting voting representatives in the Senate.
But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she expected that measure to be stripped because of its doubtful legality. She said she did not fight the amendment because she did not want to waste time on an unnecessary debate.
“We’ll never give up on full citizenship rights,” said Norton, co-sponsor of the D.C. vote bill. “That one is not going to make it.”
The voting rights bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), would expand the House from 435 to 437 seats. In a political compromise, one seat would go to the overwhelmingly Democratic District, which has sought full representation for decades. The other would go to the next state in line to expand its delegation based on census figures: Utah, which leans Republican.
There’s just one problem with this proposal, and it’s called the United States Constitution. Here’s what Article One has to say about the House:
The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.
and, for good measure, the Senate:
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, (chosen by the Legislature thereof,) (The preceding words in parentheses superseded by Amendment XVII, section 1.) for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.
Note the important word…..state. The District of Columbia, of course, is not a state and is not entitled to have voting representation in either the House or the Senate. More importantly, under the language of Article IV of the Constitution, it’s unclear that the District ever could become a state without the Constitution itself being amended:
New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.
The terrority currently known as the District of Columbia was, of course, originally part of Maryland and ceded to the Federal Government solely for the purpose of creating a Federal District. Forming a new state out of that terrority would, arguably, violate Article IV.
There are ways to solve the problem of the District’s lack of a vote in Congress, it’s not necessary to violate the Constitution in the process.