D.C. Voting: A GOP Issue

By Carol Schwartz
Thursday, March 22, 2007

Having personally written to President Bush and Congress numerous times over the years urging them to support voting rights for the citizens of our nation's capital, I was disheartened to learn that the Republican leadership is working to defeat legislation that would add a voting member from the District of Columbia and a voting member from Utah to the House of Representatives, and that the president is thinking about vetoing the bill. As a fellow Republican, I beseech them to reconsider.

News accounts indicate that Republican opposition is based largely on "constitutional concerns." However, respected constitutional scholars have argued that a congressional vote for the District is well within the bounds of the Constitution. Former solicitor general Kenneth Starr and Patricia M. Wald, a former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, jointly wrote, "There is nothing in our Constitution's history or its fundamental principles suggesting that the Framers intended to deny the precious right to vote to those who live in the capital of the great democracy they founded." Viet Dihn, a Georgetown University law professor and principal author of the USA Patriot Act, argued in a paper submitted to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that it is constitutional to give the District a vote.

Regardless of the outcome of this debate, why would the president -- who has committed so much to fighting for democracy around the world -- and Republican members of Congress not stand on the side of democracy for the 572,000 residents of the District of Columbia? Who is going to challenge in court the rectification of this centuries-long injustice? And if someone is cruel enough to try, let the Supreme Court decide otherwise.

I want to remind my fellow Republicans that historically our party has been at the forefront of struggles to enfranchise citizens and expand basic rights. It was a Republican Congress, the 38th, that proposed the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. It was a Republican Congress, the 39th, that proposed the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing due process and equal protection under the law. It was a Republican Congress, the 40th, that proposed the 15th Amendment, guaranteeing citizens the right to vote regardless of their race. And it was a Republican Congress, the 66th, that proposed the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

I had hoped that the recent Republican Congress would continue this admirable tradition. The introduction of a D.C. voting rights bill by a Republican, Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), was a good start. Although the bill made it out of committee, unfortunately it never went to the House floor. President Bush and Congress still have the opportunity to advance the democratic cause here at home. And they should, particularly since ours is the only capital city in any of the world's democracies where citizens do not have voting representation in their national legislature.

In doing so, Republican members would uphold a proud tradition as well as be in good company. For generations, respected Republican statesmen have expressed support for voting rights for D.C. residents. Former Senate majority leader Robert Dole, during an earlier voting rights effort, said, "The Republican Party supported D.C. voting representation because it was just, and in justice we could do nothing else." Former Senate minority leader Howard Baker, describing representation in the legislature as the "bedrock of our republic," said that Congress "cannot continue to deny American citizens their right to equal representation in the national government." Former president Richard Nixon said, "It should offend the democratic sense of this nation that the citizens of its capital . . . have no voice in Congress." And former senator Prescott Bush, the president's grandfather, said in 1961, "Congress has treated the District with slight consideration. We have treated it like a stepchild, in comparison with the way we have treated other States. . . . They should also be entitled to representation in the Congress."

It is obvious that this injustice has persisted far too long. Our country's leaders have within their power the ability to address it now. It is time to give the residents of the District of Columbia -- who pay federal taxes and who were subject to the military draft -- a fundamental right that all other Americans enjoy: our long overdue vote in the United States House of Representatives. I implore the president and Congress to do what I believe they know in their hearts is right.

The writer, a Republican, is an at-large member of the D.C. Council.

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