BURIED IN THE sweeping implications of the Supreme Court's ruling that Congress may not act on its own to veto government decisions is the unique status of the District of Columbia and its hard-won charter providing for a certain degree of local self-government. It just so happens that the statute delegating this home rule authority to the local government does contain provisions for congressional veto of laws approved by the D.C. government. Does this mean goodbye to home rule?
Not yet--and not at all, if Congress sticks resolutely to its intent. At this point, the statute remains in effect; home rule has not been repealed. But the legislative veto ruling does raise some questions that only time and the courts may answer. It is not entirely clear, for example, whether the legislative provisions of home rule may have been invalidated. If, for example, the D.C. government were to approve some law that Congress didn't like, could Congress still vote to disapprove it--as it could, and has, under the home rule statute up to now? And if not under the latest ruling, wouldn't such congressional action still be upheld because there is a constitutional provision specifically giving Congress special responsibility for District of Columbia matters?
Another question: What about two laws passed by the local government that actually were disapproved by Congress before this court decision? We'll see. Then, if the courts strike the congressional veto provision from the home rule law, what should happen? This one does have an answer: Congress would still have its constitutional authority to control local laws, either by enacting its own specific law prohibiting whatever the local law attempted to authorize, or--hope it never happens--by taking away the whole home rule charter.
In any event, the latest ruling should not and need not be an excuse for abolishing the degree of local democracy that has been allowed the people of the District of Columbia so far. Congress and the White House still have not only the control over the District of Columbia that existed before the ruling, but--and this is what deserves emphasis--the authority to expand local self-determination in the District of Columbia all the more until it matches that of any other city in America.