Just when it looked as if DC residents would finally gain voting representation in Congress with expected approval of the DC Voting Rights Act in the House this week, the White House – which recently promised to "look carefully" at any Congressional proposal on this issue – announced its opposition to the bill.
"The Constitution specifies that only ‘the people of the several states' elect representatives to the House," White House spokesman Alex Conant told The Washington Post. "And DC is not a state."
Wow. That's what the White House came up with after all of that careful looking? It must have had its top cherry-picking intelligence group on that mission.
Never mind the fact that such liberal ideologues as Judge Kenneth Starr and former Assistant Attorney General under John Ashcroft, Professor Viet Dinh, flat-out disagree with the White House interpretation. Starr wrote, "the Constitution's use of the term ‘State' in Article III cannot mean ‘and not of the District of Columbia.' Identical logic supports legislation to enfranchise the District's voters: the use of the word ‘State' in Article I cannot bar Congress from exercising its plenary authority to extend the franchise to the District's residents." And Dinh testified, "We conclude that Congress has ample constitutional authority to enact the District of Columbia Fairness in Representation Act. In few, if any, other areas does the Constitution grant any broader authority to Congress to legislate." Starr described Congressional authority to provide for the welfare of DC citizens as "majestic in its scope," including the right to end to the practice of taxation without representation.
In response to the White House's eleventh-hour opposition, DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka told The Post , "Our supporters are disappointed in this White House where you have a president who talks so much about voting rights abroad but can't do it two blocks from the White House. The White House opposition is just going to fire up our folks." Zherka noted the irony of a Bush administration that seems to regard privacy and habeas corpus as matters of convenience but "... when it comes to trying to give voting rights, there's a concern about the Constitution."
Robert Richie, Executive Director of FairVote, suggests that opponents of this legislation let people know what their alternative is. "Either say what else you want to do, or let people know you don't care about a half million Americans being denied representation in Congress."
This is by no means a partisan issue. In addition to the bill's cosponsor, Rep. Tom Davis, Zherka notes that other Republicans – like Representatives Dan Burton and Mike Pence, and former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp – "are embracing DC voting rights as a moral issue and have the courage to fight for it."
No matter how this bill fares, 600,000 permanent residents of our nation's capital will continue to fight for full representation in Congress. On April 16, DC Emancipation Day, a Voting Rights March will gather at Freedom Plaza and head to the Capitol. Mark your calendars and help right an historic wrong.