Giving D.C. a House Vote Redux
My Congressman and D.C.’s pretend Congresswoman are teaming up in a dubious and unconstitutional effort to give D.C. a vote in the House of Representatives.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is teaming up with U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) to introduce a bill that would for the first time give the District a full vote in Congress, a sign of bipartisan cooperation that advocates of D.C. voting rights hailed as a breakthrough.
The legislation, set to be unveiled at a news conference today, would expand the House from 435 to 437 seats, giving a vote to the District as well as a fourth seat to Utah, the state next in line to enlarge its congressional delegation based on the 2000 Census.
Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution is clear on this matter:
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.
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.
Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct. The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the state of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.
When vacancies happen in the Representation from any state, the executive authority thereof shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies. [Emphasis added]
It would be difficult for the Framers to have been more clear. Perhaps, as Dr. Hope Davis, my Con Law prof used to say, they could have added a “damn it” in there somewhere.
Update: Betsy Newmark notes another problematic aspect of the bill:
I’m also troubled by this idea of just granting Utah an extra seat to balance out the assuredly Democratic seat the the District of Columbia would be. They’re planning to make it an at-larg seat so that they don’t have to redistrict Utah and perhaps the one Democratic member from Utah would be gerrymandered out of his seat. As far as I know, no other state has both an at-large representative and ones from specific districts. That would grant every citizen of Utah double representation in the House, a very fishy arrangement that seems to violate the one-man one-vote principle.
This, too, would seem to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of Article I.
Update: As I wrote when this idea was last floated (before I lived in Mr. Davis’ district),
The entire Membership of both Houses of Congress lives in or around D.C. This tiny speck of geography, which would scarcely exist were it not the seat of government, would for all intents and purposes have 435 congressman and 100 senators.
Update: I have sent the following correspondence to Mr. Davis:
Dear Rep. Davis,
I read with distress this morning’s front page story in the Post reporting that you are collaborating with Eleanor Holmes Norton in an unconstitutional effort to undermine my voting rights by giving a House seat to the District that serves as the seat of the government of the United States.
Article I, Section 2 could not be more clear that representation in Congress is reserved to the several States. Indeed, the word “state” or “states” appears eight times in that section, exclusive of the collective “United States.”
Furthermore, the fact that the addition of Amendment XXIII was required to secure voting rights for the District in presidential elections should provide additional evidence that this bill is unconstitutional.
I respectfully urge that you abandon this unconstitutional effort to undermine the suffrage of your constitutents. There is, after all, a reason that the Framers did not want the place where Congressmen reside to have voting rights that might compete with their obligations to the places they are there to represent.
James H. Joyner, Jr.