The people of the nation’s capital – all 600,000 of them – came closer than ever before to long sought after voting representation in Congress yesterday. But in the end, bipartisan supporters of the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act could only muster 57 of the 60 votes needed to stop the latest Republican filibuster.
No one was more damning of the 42 Senators (including one Democrat, Senator Max Baucus) who voted against cloture than bill co-sponsor, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. At a press conference following the bill’s defeat, Hatch said that the tactic of filibustering against civil rights “was resurrected” with that vote. DC Mayor Adrian Fenty – who was on the Senate floor for the vote and attended the press conference along with the entire DC Council – also noted that “not since segregation has the Senate blocked a voting rights bill.” Hatch railed against those who argue that the bill is unconstitutional – saying they should give the Supreme Court a chance to determine that – and he believed that opponents simply feared that the court would side with voting rights advocates. Another supporter of the bill, Republican Sen. Susan Collins, had even attached an amendment calling for “expedited” judicial review in an attempt to assuage her colleagues concerns. She urged her colleagues to “stand for an important principle of providing the vote to residents of the District of Columbia.”
Following the bill’s defeat, an optimistic (non-voting) Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton said, “The fat lady has not sung yet. This war is not over.” She said she was “particularly grateful to the 8 Republicans who stood with us” despite “extraordinary pressure” from Republican party leaders. Norton indicated that Republican Senators Thad Cochran, John McCain and Gordon Smith had said that they would vote against the filibuster but that they folded to party pressure.
While many fear that this was the last shot for DC voting rights in this Congress, Norton didn’t agree. She noted that the second session will occur in an election year, and that while some Republicans were “scared away” from supporting the bill this time around, in 2008 voting rights advocates will utilize tremendous bipartisan support and follow Senators home to “scare them into” supporting the bill.
“We will get there,” Hatch agreed. “Justice is on the side of winning here. Giving 600,000 people the right to vote.”
With reporting by Greg Kaufmann, a freelance writer residing in his disenfranchised hometown of Washington, DC.