Statehood: The Best Path for D.C.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Post and some District leaders support a bill co-sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) that would replace the District's delegate to the House with a voting representative -- and buy Republican support with an additional seat for Utah.

District residents deserve a vote in the House -- but the bill is misguided. It is based on a novel interpretation of the Constitution. The theory is: Congress has such power concerning the District that it can ignore provisions of the Constitution when legislating regarding the District; in this case the provision that says the House is made up of representatives of the states.

Historical precedent shows that the District cannot properly be given a representative by statute; voting representation must be provided through constitutional means:

· The District was allotted a delegate in 1970 precisely because the Constitution doesn't permit it to be given a representative.

· In 1978, Congress passed a constitutional amendment to grant the District a representative and senators because a statute couldn't grant the representation. The amendment failed when only 16 states ratified it within seven years.

· The District has sought statehood so it could have a representative and senators.

· District residents were granted the right to vote for president by the 23rd Amendment because a statute wouldn't have sufficed.

In 1993, when Puerto Rico's resident commissioner and the delegates from the District, American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands originally were granted the vote on amendments to bills in the House's Committee of the Whole, a revote was required without the non-state representatives if their votes determined the outcome of an amendment. The reasoning was that only representatives of states can constitutionally determine the passage of legislation. The federal courts ruled then that, without the revote, the proposal "would have been plainly unconstitutional" and that it was constitutional with the revote provision.


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