D.C.'s Day in the Senate

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

IT WAS TO THE discredit of the Senate in 2007 that it would not allow even consideration of a bill to give D.C. residents voting rights. Indeed, the last time the second-class status of D.C. residents was debated on the Senate floor was 30 years ago. So today's vote on Senate Bill 160 -- the D.C. House Voting Rights Act -- is more than overdue. It is time for the Senate to rectify its past mistakes and agree to hold an up-or-down vote on legislation giving District residents their rights as American citizens.

The measure would give long-disenfranchised D.C. residents a voting representative in the House. This would be accomplished by expanding the 435-member House by two seats, one for the District and the other for the state next in line to gain a seat. Utah would be the immediate beneficiary.

Two years ago, similar legislation fell three votes short of the 60 needed to proceed to debate and consideration. Advocates for D.C. voting rights, buoyed by Democratic congressional gains in November as well as the support of President Obama, are cautiously optimistic. But they thought they had the votes two years ago, too, so they worry about defections or unwanted amendments sabotaging the bill. It was encouraging to hear Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who successfully led GOP opposition to the bill in 2007, tell us yesterday that he believes the measure will pass Congress -- and that it will then be shot down in court. We hope Mr. McConnell's legislative prediction is correct, even as we disagree with his view that the bill is patently unconstitutional.

As House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) wrote in a Post opinion piece Sunday, there are plausible legal arguments on both sides of the issue, with each able to draw on the Constitution and invoke the Founders' intent. Mr. Hoyer, a staunch supporter of D.C. voting rights, believes the measure is constitutional. It is likely that any measure voted out of Congress will include provision for expedited court review, so we will find out. In the meantime, the Senate should not lose sight of the fact that nearly 600,000 people who live in the nation's capital do not have a voice in their government. We can't think of a topic more worthy of Senate debate.

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