HOME RULE IS DEAD. It died in a collision between the principle that a city ought to be able to govern itself and the principle that it should not have the right to discriminate in hiring on the basis of race. Congress killed home rule, but the city gave it the gun.
Of course, the idea that Congress would not meddle in District of Columbia affairs was always something of an illusion -- a wish. As long as Congress had ultimate authority for the District of Columbia, someone was going to butt in. That someone turned out to be Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) from Fairfax County, where many District police and firemen live. He amended the District's appropriation bill to forbid the city to hire any more police or firemen by lottery. The lottery was always a bad idea. The remedy -- scuttling home rule -- is worse.
No matter. There is not a politician in the country who would not have done what Parris did. He served his constituents at the expense of people who can never vote for him or, more important, against him. More than that, he acted on an issue for which the word controversial is insufficiently descriptive. The lottery scheme, an awkward attempt to implement a noble goal, is the kind of plan that in another era and with another race benefitting, would have been called racist.
The idea, of course, was to increase the number of blacks and other minority group members on the District police force. It's a good idea. There is, after all, something to be said in favor of having a police force that is racially representative of the city it serves. The effect of the lottery, though, was to discriminate against whites -- and, incidentally, against blacks who had scored well on the entrance exam. Changing the rules in the middle of the game is always unfair; changing them because of race is unfair and then some.
So the cops and the potential cops complained to Parris. In effect, what they did was similar to what blacks in the South had done during the civil rights era. They went to the Feds. Faced with a situation in which a majority race controlled the political apparatus and wanted to select only members of its own race for certain jobs, the cops and their allies went to Congress. Faced with similar situations, blacks did the same thing years ago.
It's a shame. What matters in the long run is principles, not expedient solutions. One principle, of course, is civil liberty. That got in the way of an attempt to get more blacks on the fire and police departments. The principle that racial discrimination is always wrong got suspended when it interfered with hiring goals. Similarly, the principle of home rule, while wonderful, got in the way of a congressman serving a constituency -- and incidentally upholding the first principle. Parris took one principle and used it to beat the hell out of another. Based on his record, he was not sad to deal home rule a mortal blow.
From now on, the task will be easier. Once you've told a city how not to hire its cops, you can tell it anything. Next time it will be a different congressman and a different issue, but it no longer matters. Home rule mattered as much in this case as state's rights did when it stood between blacks and equality. Neither is a loss to those who were abused by them.
The parallels between Washington and the Old South can only be taken so far. When it comes to what race holds the reigns of political power, Washington is something of an American exception. In most of the rest of the country, it is whites who rule (and in a sense, through Congress, they still do in Washington) and in racial matters they have mostly done so in a way that is a national disgrace.
It would be wonderful to come up with a way of achieving a racial ratio in the city's uniformed force that reflects that of the city as a whole without trampling on the rights of individuals. But the District did not manage to pull that off. Instead, it discriminated against whites and history repeated itself. Two principles were pitted against each other in a classic no-win situation. Something of value had to go, either home rule or a person's right to be judged regardless of race. It turned out to be home rule. It will be missed.