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.

    Sincerely,

    James H. Joyner, Jr.
    Alexandria, VA

________

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    My own feeling is that the Congress has abrogated its responsibilities with respect to the District (what?! Congress abrogate responsibility!?) They should either step up to the plate and reclaim their constitutional role or restore the Distict to Maryland.

    The underlying problem, presumably, is that the framers never anticipated the federal district having the enormous population it has now. Restricting residence in the District is, I guess, another alternative but somehow I can’t imagine that happening.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Dave,

    Yes, I would support retrocession of the non-federal parts of the District to Maryland. I think the residents deserve representation in Congress but not AS residents of the federal District.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Yeah, “retrocession” is the buzzword for that, isn’t it? 😉

  4. Tano says:

    Cant have it both ways James.

    From 3rd para. Art. I Sec. 2

    “…direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states…”

    No representation, no taxation. What could be more American than that?

  5. Tano says:

    Also, your idea that somehow the fact that the reps and the senators live in and around DC means that they thereby have enormous amount of representation is deeply dishonest. You know perfectly well that these people are paid to represent districts around the country, they are responsible to, and dependent on the votes of people from around the country, NOT from the people of DC. They are not accountable, in any sense whatsoever – certainly not a democratic sense – to the people of DC. They DO NOT in any way, shape or form represent the interests of the people of DC.

    Sorry, but I find this to be an outrageously deceptive argument.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Tano: I suggest you look at the Amendments.

    Amendment XVI

    The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Tano: The argument isn’t that they’re beholden to DC residents but that they’re themselves residents of DC. That makes them rather attuned to District issues.

  8. Tano says:

    James,

    That is ridiculous. Many of them live in Md, or Virginia. And the notion that they are “attuned’ to District issues is absurd. I lived in the District for three years, and I can assure you, the representatives of KS, AK, LA etc could not have given a damn about the situation of the people in southeast or any other parts of the district.

    In any case, the basic principles of American democracy rests on the notion that representatives are to be ACCOUNTABLE to the people, through elections. It is NOT that they merely be ATTUNED to the interests of the people. A monarch can be attunded to the interests of his subjects – the whole point of a democracy is that the people are empowered to remove their representatives if those reps fail to do an acceptable job representing them. How can a DC resident remove a rep who votes for policies that they disagree with?

    And your notion that somehow your vote in VA is going to be “diluted” because your fellow citizens in DC are granted the same rights that you have, is laughhably absurd.

    Lets be honest here. We all understand, in our deep American bones, that the denial of voting representation to American citizens is WRONG, on first principles. The ONLY reason that this situation still exists is because the Republican party knows perfectly well that this added representative would almost certainly be a Democrat. Instead of accepting the basic principles of equal represntation, and voting rights, and setting forth on what may well be a long term project of actually trying to win the allegiance of DC voters, they cut it off by denying these people the vote.

    And all this talk of dilution, and reference to a time when there actually were few if any people living in DC is all evasion. There is a simple principle at work here – the most basic of all principles, and it is outrageous that you cant see that.

    I dont know if the particular law is constitutional or not. I just find it digusting (and further proof of my point) that the only way that at least some Republicans might acknowledge the rights of DC residents, is if they can get an extra seat for their own party too.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Tano: Read the links to previous stories. I agree that DC residents should get a vote, just not this way.

    The dilution I refer to is the creation of two extra seats. I go from Davis representing 1/435 of the House to 1/437th. That’s dilution.

    My argument re: being attuned to DC issues is not that they are therefore providing representation. It is, rather, that they have a personal stake in what goes on in DC that influences their vote. Those of us who live in the DC suburbs don’t really think of ourselves as Maryland or Virginia residents; it’s all “D.C.” just like those who live in the suburbs of NYC, LA, or Chicago.

  10. Tano says:

    James,
    Your “dilution” occurs because you currently have the advantage of OVERrepresentation, due to the fact that half a million of your fellow citizens do not have representation. You got that? You are not entitled, under principles of equal representation and voting rights, to the marginal extra representation that you currently have. That is why I find the dilution argument to be absurd. Yes, there is dilution, but it is dilution down to the level of representation that you are entitled to.

    As to attunement. I wonder what your reaction would be if we decided to take away YOUR congressional vote. There are few places on the face of the earth whose residents exercise more power than do the residents of Alexandria VA. You have thousands, if not tens of thousands of residents who have positions in the executive and legislative branches, including a lot of congressional representatives. These people are all attuned to the interests of Alexandria – what the hell do you need with an actual vote in Congress?

  11. Tano says:

    And, oh yeah. Sorry to be piling on here. But to the extent that you agree that DC residents should have representation (just not this way), it completely undermines your arguments regarding dilution. If they get representation, in some constitutional way, then your vote will be “diluted” in the same way.

    And if you do believe in the principle, why are you only motivated to write to your congressman to oppose his plan, without any demand that they enact full representation in a constitutional manner? Seems to me like the standard dodge – oh yes, I agree with the principle, I just disagree with actually doing it in any way that could be accomplished….

  12. Tano,

    How about we dissolve the DC and give the portions back to Virginia and Maryland? Then you can have representation as a part of which ever state you end up in. Of course, that might create a problem if the Virginia DPS conflicted with the capital police or secret service, but we can have that anyway.

  13. Tano says:

    yetanother,

    The VA parts of the district were given back to VA a long time ago, before the civil war, and they were given back essentially because they were not being used by the federal government. So it would only be MD.

    DC has been a unique jurisdiction relative to MD for over 200 years now. The only reason that retrocession to MD is raised as a possibility is so that the implications of equal representation – i.e. that DC have two senators as well as a rep (remember, DC’s population is larger than that of Wyoming) can be avoided. And the reason that folks want to avoid that is because, once again, of the partisan implications (there may well be some racial ones as well).

  14. James Joyner says:

    Tano,

    Again, the dilution of the Davis-Norton plan comes from the addition of two seats. If they were advocating reapportionment and keeping the number at 435, I would not make that particular argument. The Constitutional one–which is my main argument, anyway–would remain.

    The way to solve an obvious problem–the lack of voting representation for people who are paying federal taxes and live in the District–is to make them residents of a state.

    I don’t support making D.C. a state for a variety of reasons, chief of which is that it’s merely a city. Yes, it’s bigger than Wyoming populationwise. Knowing what we know now, however, we obviously wouldn’t have carved so many states out of the Northwest Territory. We’d also have made two states out of California. Still, there’s no reason to compound the results of a bad guess with knowing stupidity.

    So, the remaining option is Maryland retrocession. There has to be a reasonable way to accomplish that.

  15. John Burgess says:

    “No taxation without representation” is a noble venture, but nowhere inscribed in the Constitution or any other law of the land.

    That said, I think it’s the way to go with DC, just not the way most people think.

    I believe that DC residents should be exempted from federal tax, period.

    That would permit the DC government to raise its already high taxes even higher, while still reducing the overall tax burden of the taxpayer. Instead of 9% DC income tax, they could charge 25% and the taxpayers would still be ahead.

    If they extend that tax exemption to corporations, then DC would never face a fiscal crisis again. There would be money galore for schools, hospitals, streets, etc.

    Of course, a federally tax-free DC would create a vastly different demographic. High-income tax payers would start to flock to the city. That would drive up property values which would tend to displace large portions of the “underclass”. DC could drop its property taxes completely–or charge only businesses–to provide some protection for the poor.

    But DC was created to be a capital city, not a collection of residential areas. They were pre-existing, to a large degree, but aren’t mandated by any laws.

    Perhaps large portions of the city would become nothing but office complexes of companies. So?

    DC was explicitly denied the right to vote. That was a decision taken with due deliberation.

    Do you suppose that if DC were a 100% Republican vote lock that there’d be much public support for a general enfranchisement of DC voters? I rather doubt it.

    So keep DC disenfranchised, but don’t federally tax the residents!

  16. marc says:

    James,

    You asked Tano to take a look at the Amendments, but you still fail to recognize that the amendment you cited authorizes Congress to tax from “among the several states.” This demonstrates the fact that DC is conveniently construed as a “state” when it comes to extracting money, but is then denied the vote on the converse of the same argument. This is intellectual dishonesty as its worst!

    Amendment XVI

    The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

  17. James Joyner says:

    Marc: The Amendment clearly allows taxes on incomes, period, without reference to states. The phrase “without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration” refers to the previous means of collecting federal revenue, which the Amendment supercedes.