Thursday, March 29, 2007

Giving D.C. votes in the House

George Will has an excellent column about why the District of Columbia should not be given a vote in the House of Representatives as the Democrats are planning to do.
Many clauses in the Constitution leave room for conflicting interpretations. What constitutes "commerce . . . among the several states," "establishment of religion," "cruel and unusual punishments"? Regarding the composition of the House of Representatives, however, the Constitution is unambiguous. Article I, Section 2 says the House shall be composed of members chosen "by the people of the several states."

Until the nation's flag has 51 stars -- at which point the District will have two senators -- the city should not have a full member of the House. (Today, the D.C. "delegate" votes in committees and on floor amendments -- as long as the vote does not change the outcome -- but not on final passage of legislation.) But those -- mostly Democrats -- who favor full House membership for the District cite Congress's constitutional power "to exercise exclusive legislation" over "the seat of the government." They say Congress can exercise its "exclusive legislation" power to nullify Article I, Section 2's requirement that House members be chosen by the people "of the several states."

But that is preposterous: If Congress's "exclusive legislation" power concerning the District can trump one constitutional provision, it can trump any provision: Congress could establish a religion, stifle free speech or authorize unreasonable searches and seizures in Washington. And if Congress's power over the District allows it to award full House representation, why could it not also award two Senate seats? Today's Congress is pressing House representation for the District partly because of that predictable next step: The District would be a reliable source of two Democratic senators.
As Will also points out, the 23rd Amendment has clear language giving the District Electoral votes "Equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a state." (emphasis added)

There are ways to get votes in Congress for the residents of the House if the Democrats are so eager to do so. The land could be given back to Maryland, but I doubt that Maryland really wants to take on all the problems that the District brings with it. Or they could try to pass an amendment, but that is not likely to ever pass. What they can't do is simply pass a law and ignore the language of the Constitution. When the Supreme Court struck down the line-item veto, they made it clear that Congress needs to go through the amendment process if they are going to change the meaning of the Constitution. They can't do so just by legislative fiat.