Thursday, April 05, 2007

Why D.C. does not deserve a vote

The District of Columbia currently does not have a vote in Congress, and it should stay that way. The Democrats have committed themselves to giving the residents of the Federal City a vote, but the Republicans used an amendment to block it. Make no mistake it will be back to plague America again, and soon.

It should be noted that I have a brother who lives in the District, and as long as he does, he does not deserve a vote in Congress. No one forced him to live there. When I visit him I see nothing but the arrogant license plates that proclaim "Taxation without Representation", as if some how the struggle for D.C. Congressional vote is the same as our nations struggle for liberty. The people of the District conveniently forget that the same Founding Fathers who made that claim against England are the ones who made sure the District would not have a vote.

My reasons for opposing D.C. getting a vote are twofold. First, the Constitution plainly forbids it. Article 1 Section 2 states, "The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States". Note the word State. The District of Columbia is not a state. It is not governed by a state constitution, there is no governor, no state house of representatives, nothing. But that cannot happen because the land is under federal dominion. Thus, the Constitution prohibits it from having a vote. The House of Representatives is for Representatives of states, not cities much less Federal Districts. Section 8 of the same article gives Congress the power over any district where the capital might be located and the same powers over land purchased from the states for things like Forts, dock-yard, and other "needful buildings". Clearly the Constitution puts Federal land under Congress, not as a part of it. The Federal District is on the level of Forts and dock-yards. The D.C. Voting Rights bill is clearly unconstitutional. This was recognized in 1978 when a Democratic Congress passed an amendment to the Constitution to give D.C. a vote, but it was killed by the states.

Second, the bill is not just a harmless attempt to franchise tax-payers, it is an outright attack on the foundation of the government. The Nation was bold enough to mention the true goal of this bill, eventual statehood or more likely full representation. It is unprecedented to think of people being represented in the House, but not the Senate. The next push would be for D.C. to get the required two Senators. After all, they are already in the House. Let us not forget about the Electoral College. A vote in Congress is not the same as getting a vote for President, and that would soon be pushed for as well. A city would soon be granted the same privileges as the states. In effect, it would destroy the idea of states. Passing this bill would already be saying that ‘states’ as found in the Constitution means nothing (see Article 1 section 2). The system of checks and balances so often talked about is not to be primarily between branches of the Federal Government, but to be between the States and the Federal Government. Republicans and Democrats alike have long been attacking the rights and even idea of states, and this bill is another step in the obliteration of states all together.

Don’t believe me? Think I am paranoid? Perhaps you have forgotten the attempt to end the Electoral College. Candidate for President Hillary Clinton is on record as being against the Electoral College. And it was not just a fad. Maryland’s Democratic Congress just gave its Democratic Governor a bill that abolishes the Electoral College, and he is going to sign it.

This is a war that will not end because the states stand in the way of an expansive and abusive Federal government. Which is after all, the only thing Republicans and Democrats really want.


Jay said...

Obviously, I'm going to comment on this.

First of all, a factual correction. You seem to imply that giving the District votes in the Electoral College is something that hasn't happened yet. It has. D.C. has had 3 Electoral College votes since the ratification of the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution in 1961.

As for the votes in Congress, I think you may be overlooking a few things. You're right to say that the Constitution provides representation for "States." So there is a strong argument that creating a representative for the District by legislation would be unconstitutional. But it doesn't necessarily follow that the founding fathers envisioned a federal district where the residents had no representatives in Congress. The Constitution provides for a federal "District," but it does not specify that people residing in that District cannot vote for a representative in Congress.

To me, the key legal question is what was meant by the "cession" of land that formed the District. I think the best interpretation is that the states were to cede exclusive legislative authority over the District to Congress. The people living in the District, however, would continue to remain full citizens of their respective states. Thus, people living in the District today would vote for a Maryland representative and two Maryland Senators (all the land in Virginia formerly a part of the District has been returned to the Commonwealth). This would preserve the founders' goal of preventing state influence over Congress while it is in session (see Federalist No. 43). I believe there are some statements from Madison supporting this idea, but I can't find them right now.

From an equitable standpoint, I don't think it is sufficient to say that people living in the District shouldn't complain about the lack of a vote because they chose to live in the District. Set aside the fact that many residents of the District, unlike me, have little choice about where they live due to their low income. Do you really want to take the position that half a million United States citizens should not be able to vote for a Congressional representative? Even if the Constitution required it, wouldn't that be good reason to consider changing the Constitution?

So that's a quick summary of my position. I agree with you that the current D.C. Voting Rights bill is almost certainly unconstitutional. The Congressional Research Service recently published an analysis reaching the same conclusion. But I do not think it follows that the residents of the District should have no representation in Congress, either from a legal standpoint or from the standpoint of the basic democratic principles that are embodied in the Constitution.

jay said...

Federalist 43, in answering possible objections to the creation of a federal District, states that the residents of the District "will have had their voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them," i.e., the federal government. I can't think what this could mean except that Madison envisioned that the residents of the District would be able to vote for representatives in Congress. I think there are other comments from the founders along these same lines.

Lee said...

They have electoral votes? More proof of my point. The idea that a city has the same amount of electoral power as South Dakota is ludicrous.

I do not have a problem with letting them vote for Maryland representatives and senators. That is fully in accord with the Constitution, in my opinion, and in keeping with the idea of states. However, your 'delegate' would never support such a notion.

Just becaus half a million people cannot currently vote does not bother me at all. I like high voting standards. I bet there are just as many felons who do not vote right now either, but I don't think they should. Voting is not an inalliable right. However, if they want to Constitutionaly address the issue, then so be it. They are proceeding in a way designed only to heighten the power of the Federal Government, and that is what bothers me the most.

Andrew McIntyre said...

If I remember my history correctly, wasn't the whole idea behind the establishment of the D.C. to plant the federal government in neutral territory regarding the states? It seems to me, if you give DC representatives and, God forbid, Senators, they would become the most influencial and non-neutral pseudo-state in the nation.

Regarding the expectation of the founding fathers, I also do not think they envisioned that DC would become a major metropolitan area housing the largest leviathan in the world. No, I daresay, they did not foresee this. Lord have mercy upon us.


Jay said...

I don't think it follows that because felons don't have the right to vote, it's no problem that 500,000 people in the District can't vote for a representative in Congress. Granted that voting is not an inalienable right, shouldn't it take more than one's city of residence to lose that right (perhaps privilege is a better word)? We may not be living in a pure democracy, but certainly we should place some significant value on a person's right to vote. Why else did we amend the Constitution to ensure that blacks, women and persons between the agest of 18 and 21 could vote? If I'm right that there's no constitutional obstacle to District residents voting in Maryland, shouldn't you support them having that privilege out of general principle?

Allowing DC residents to vote in Maryland elections wouldn't remove the federal government from "neutral territory" either. The District would still be controlled by Congress, as provided in the Constitution and subsequent legislation. The only change would be that the residents of the District would have their voices heard in Congress, the same as the residents of every other place in the United States.

As for what the authors of the Constitution foresaw, I'm not particularly concerned. The language in the Constitution, not the founders' ability to foresee the future, is what governs. As I mentioned, Federalist 43 suggests that Madison, at least, thought that the words of the Constitution allowed for residents of the District to have a "voice" in the election of Congress. That Madison couldn't imagine the District as a city with 500,000 residents (the population of New York in 1790 was just over 33,000, but London had nearly 1,000,000 residents), or that he would have blanched as the size of our current federal government, seems irrelevant to me.

Lee said...

I might support the DC residents voting for Maryland representatives if they were asking for it. The point is that they are not. They are asking for direct representation without statehood. That idea is a dangerous one. That is the idea currently before Congress, and that is the idea specifically rejected by the Constitution regardless of Federalist 43.

The reason I do not whole heartedly support the idea of DC residents voting for Maryland Senators and Representative is because of Andy's point about 'neutrality'. Is it right for citizens of the District to help elect Maryland Senators if DC residents do not live by the laws of Maryland? DC residents do not pay Maryland taxes do they? Then they are not necessarily linked to the rest of Maryland. Maryland Senators should stand up for Maryland, but if DC remained a Federal city, then Maryland Senators and one of the Representatives would have divided loyalty in Congress, in effect to two separate constitutents governed by separate laws. I see that as a problem.