A D.C. police cruiser patrols the Lincoln Heights neighborhood in D.C. on Dec. 19. (Eric Lee for The Washington Post)

The Senate will soon vote on whether to overturn two local D.C. laws. One revises D.C.’s antiquated patchwork of a criminal code, last comprehensively revised in 1901. The other gives noncitizens the right to vote in local — not federal — elections. Should the Senate pass the disapproval resolutions, it would mark the first time in three decades that Congress overturned D.C. law. That would be a historic setback for democratic values.

When Congress passed the Home Rule Act in 1973, it authorized the D.C. Council “to the greatest extent possible” to legislate on local matters. After nearly a century of racially discriminatory attitudes about Black political power, the Home Rule Act recognized that D.C., then a majority African American city, could and should govern its own affairs. By 1973, the hypocrisy of denying hundreds of thousands of Americans the right to choose their local elected leaders proved untenable, particularly as the United States touted its democratic values at home and abroad.

The House votes last week to disapprove D.C. local laws was reminiscent of the dismissive paternalism with which Congress treated D.C. before Home Rule. Politicians from other states don’t know more or care more about how to make D.C. safer than the nearly 700,000 people who live here and whose democratically elected officials worked closely with local law enforcement, national legal experts and community members for more than a decade to streamline and clarify our archaic, confusing criminal laws. Nor do those politicians have any basis to substitute their judgment about who should be allowed to participate in local elections.

Let’s be honest. Congressional interference in local affairs is not about an earnest desire to improve public safety or democracy in D.C. It’s political theater: hyperpartisan combatants in our divisive, national discourse seeking to score points for their next hometown election cycle. What’s more, in their rejection of the will of D.C. voters, they promote false narratives. Their contention that the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 (RCCA) is “soft on crime” — a familiar dog whistle — is demonstrably untrue. The RCCA increases the maximum sentence for many criminal offenses, including armed robbery, sexual assault and attempted murder; allows for sentencing enhancements when crimes are committed with weapons; and right-sizes penalties for certain crimes to match judicial practices. Equally important, in getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences for all crimes other than first degree murder, the RCCA recognizes that longer sentences — which disproportionately adversely impact Black and brown communities — do not make communities safer. Indeed, just the opposite.

Ironically, many members of Congress who advance the “soft on crime” sound bite represent states that have maximum penalties for serious crimes that are lower than the RCCA. Others represent states that have adopted the policies they criticize, such as criminal law based on the Model Penal Code and the right to a jury trial for misdemeanors that could result in imprisonment. And these same members routinely advocate for less federal government in local affairs, not more. If members of Congress were really concerned about public safety in D.C., they would pass common-sense gun reform and fill judicial vacancies on our Superior Court and Court of Appeals. Those two actions would immediately make D.C. safer.

Bottom line: There is no good, principled reason for Congress to interfere with the democratically expressed views of D.C. voters. The disapproval resolutions pending in the Senate not only violate the letter and spirit of the Home Rule Act, but they also disrespect the long, hard-fought progress D.C. residents have made in exercising control over our own affairs. I urge the Senate to stand up for democratic values, stand against disenfranchisement and stand with the residents of our nation’s capital.

Brian Schwalb, Washington

The writer, a Democrat, is the D.C. attorney general.