D.C. Voting Rights Reach the House

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

THE HOUSE of Representatives will soon have the opportunity -- indeed, the privilege -- to right a 200-year-old wrong. Action is set this week on a measure to give the District of Columbia a voting member of Congress. Nothing is more heady than bringing democracy to a people, and House members should not sully this noble effort with matters that are irrelevant or politics that are petty.

Strong support exists in the Democrat-controlled House for the D.C. voting rights bill. The measure would give long-disenfranchised D.C. residents a voting representative in the House under an arrangement that would permanently expand that body by two seats. The other seat would go to the state next in line to pick up an additional representative, with Utah benefiting for the next few years. The measure won approval in the House in 2007, only to be blocked in the Senate.

Last week, the Senate approved the measure, albeit with a controversial gun amendment that would strip the D.C. government of its ability to regulate guns. The question now is whether that Senate amendment will become part of the House legislation. Predictably, the National Rifle Association is applying pressure. Similar legislation to gut the District's gun restrictions actually passed the House last year, with significant Democratic support, only to die in the Senate. We hope the House leadership insists on rules that limit amendments to subjects that are germane to the bill, such as whether there should be a provision for expedited court review.

No matter one's position on guns -- and we happen to think last week's Senate action was so extreme as to be reckless -- this week's vote is not about the Second Amendment or what constitutes acceptable limits on the rights it provides. The debate this week should be about whether American citizens who pay their taxes, serve on juries and die for their country should be denied a voice in their government. All other issues are extraneous to that principle; all other subjects pale next to the outrage of the United States being the only democracy in which residents of its capital city are denied a vote. The House can make history this week, and members would do well to think about how they want it written.

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