Washington, D.C., is on the road to obtaining a voting member in the House of Representatives. Tuesday the Senate voted to cut off debate 62-34 on the Voting Rights Act. President Obama has said he’ll sign it if it survives court challenges.
The court challenge is a formidable obstacle, because the legislation is unconstitutional. The Foundry at the Heritage Foundation sets it out in The Constitution is Clear: DC is a Federal City.
A few highlights:
Congress Doesn’t Have the Authority: Congress lacks the constitutional authority to simply grant the District a voting representative, as the Constitution explicitly limits such representation to states alone. Members of Congress are bound by their oath to reject proposals that violate the Constitution.
Article I, Section 2: “Representatives…shall be apportioned among the several States.” The District, as courts and Congress have long agreed, is not a state.
Constitutional Amendment: Congress cannot alter the Constitution by itself; an amendment, passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate and ratified by 38 states, is required.
Statehood: While the Constitution grants Congress authority to legislate for the District, this does not grant Congress the authority to violate other provisions of the Constitution. Thus, Congress can no more rely on this authority to add a representative in violation of the Art. I, Sec. 1 requirement that representatives be apportioned to the several “states” than it could rely on the Post Office Clause to ban criticism of the Post Office, which would violate of the First Amendment. Both would be unconstitutional acts.
Precedent: Granting the city a voice in presidential elections required an amendment, the 23rd. The last serious attempt to give the District voting representation was in the form of an amendment, which passed Congress but was not ratified by the required number of states.
Liberal Scholars Agree: Liberal Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, an advocate of direct congressional representation for DC, says it would be “ridiculous to suggest” that delegates to the Constitutional Convention would have worked out such specific language and rules for Congress “only to give the majority of Congress the right to create a new form of voting members from federal enclaves like the District.”
People in D.C. having representation is fine with me. But do it by Constitutional amendment.