Congress Pulls D.C. Vote Bill

The Democrats have finally pulled the plug on the D.C. Vote bill — citing an amendment that would strip the city of its gun control laws. While D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) previously stated (here and here) that there was an agreement to pass the amendment as the cost for the D.C. vote, House leadership decided yesterday to pull the bill.

I testified at the prior congressional hearings (here and here and here) and written columns (here and here) on why I consider the bill to be flagrantly unconstitutional. I have also written a long academic piece explaining why this means of securing the vote would face a likely court challenge and, in my view, such a challenge would be successful. I have long supported D.C. residents gaining a vote and proposed alternative and constitutional means to secure such a result.

As I have stated in four or five congressional hearings, we could have secured a vote for D.C. years ago if this ill-conceived plan had not been adopted. Ironically, it was adopted out of pure political convenience to trade off a seat for Utah. This is a case of path dependence where past investment in one approach now makes it difficult to admit that another approach is better. However, that state is now likely to get the seat in the current census. While I am doubtful, I only wish that the leadership would now reconsider and work on a constitutional option.

For the full story, click here.

23 thoughts on “Congress Pulls D.C. Vote Bill”

  1. In this purported government “of the people, for the people, by the people, why does “We the people of the United States” mean that states and corporations can be represented, but over half a million real people cannot? There are two words for this: “Despotic Constitutionalism”.

    The central premise of our form of participatory government is that “just power derives from the consent of the governed”. Only in the case of DC, that premise has been abandoned, creating a caste of persons who are effectively political eunuchs, pariahs, who, though by both blood and place of birth (jus sanguinis and jus solis) are unrebuttably citizens of the nation, but are apparently not deemed to be “people of the United States”. So, presumably, they must fit some other category, perhaps something like sub-humans or aliens (foreigners or extraterrestrials)?

    Residents of DC belong to the nation in the sense of full membership, not in the sense of chattel property. Of the Amendments to the Constitution, a goodly number were addressed at problems arising from a failure in the initial Constitution to allow voting for other than propertied white males over 21. In a piecemeal fashion, amendments have gradually corrected that original deficiency.

    My own suggestions would be twofold:

    First, considering that DC residents technically do not reside in the fifty “United States”, we should treat them as we currently do other expatriates who live outside the United States, and allow each DC resident to declare affiliation or affinity with a state, and allow them to vote absentee in that state, like other expatriates.

    After all, the Constitution says “the PEOPLE of the several states” not “the RESIDENTS of the several states. Look up the meaning of the word “of”.

    Residents of DC –ARE– the people of the several states. They are part and parcel, progeny and posterity of those same founders who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to preserve our Liberty. They belonged to the original thirteen colonies, which cannot be said of Guam, Samoa, or Puerto Rico. Nor, for that matter, of Hawaii, Alaska, …nor even Wyoming, which has a smaller population than DC.

    The people of DC are certainly not the people of the Asian Steppes, nor of the Arctic tundra, nor of the Australian outback, nor of the Argentinian pampas; they, like other American expatriates, are the people of the several [American] states, regardless of where they currently reside.

    The second issue regarding DC is the degree of local autonomy. Currently, a simple majority is all that is necessary for Congress to rule with Absolute Power over DC “in all cases whatsoever.” And we all know that power corrupts, and Absolute Power corrupts Absolutely [case in point, here].

    If Congress DOES need to maintain the last word over DC, at least the exercise of such Absolute Power ought to require support from broad national consensus, as demonstrated by a requirement for a super-majority of both Houses to impose that Absolute Power. What happened to the central premise on which our country is otherwise based, that “just power derives from the consent of the governed”?

  2. One of the legal arguments requiring a constitutional amendment for DC statehood is based on the supposed need to repeal the 23d Amendment with its Electoral Votes for the District. If that argument is valid, then it fully applies to retrocession as well. An Amendment would be required even if Maryland consented. They can’t “Give it back to Maryland” without a constitutional amendment.

  3. “And the divine wisdom of the Founding Fathers includes” the right of slaveowners to enslave, rape and torture human beings whose ancestors were imported from Africa, to count them as 3/5ths for purposes of apportionment, and to authorize their capture and return under the fugitive slave clause. You make me sick with the sanctimonious divine wisdom, Justice Taney.

  4. The answer to your question is that the Senate was never intended to be a democratic (small-d) institution.

    And the divine wisdom of the Founding Fathers includes the fact that they never intended for the Federal District to be a state.

    Also, in addition to the Constitutional problems, Republicans will never agree to give the Democratic party two more seats in the Senate. Statehood is a political non-starter.

    Give it back to Maryland.

  5. Giving DC two senators is no more absurd than low-population, rural states two senators. I love Wyoming, but why do those 550,000 people get to be represented by 2 senators, when me and my fellow ~13 million Illinois residents only get two?

    Let’s all think of the “divine wisdom of the founding fathers” and thank them for creating this absurd mess…

  6. Mike,

    One of the main objections would really be that bringing the District & it’s population in to Maryland would represent a permanent shift of political power in the state away from Baltimore/Annapolis and toward DC/Suburban Maryland.

  7. It’s unclear to me why Marylanders would be opposed to taking most of the District back into the state’s jurisdiction. They’d gain tax revenue, an additional congressperson, and an additional electoral vote. I mean, DC isn’t worse than Baltimore…

  8. Sure. We can let Congress turn the District into a State and then we can move the Seat of our government into a more centralized location. The residents of the District will be happy with their new-found suffrage, and the residents of the Union will be provided with a centralized location for the seat of their government.

  9. This does kind of gall me. They get Virginia’s consent back then, but they do not need Maryland’s consent today. That is really a hypocritical position for a Virginian to take. One rule for Virginia, but a different one for Maryland. Why is Maryland treated differently?

  10. I did not say Congress SHOULD do it without Maryland’s permission, I said that there was an argument that it could, that’s all.

    Nonetheless, it’s either retrocession or nothing, because a Constitutional Amendment is even more unlikely than getting the State of Maryland to take it’s land back

  11. Doug. Most conservatives favor federalism and states rights. It would be a big blow to a state’s sovereignty to tell it that it has to change its boundaries and take in territory and people against the will of its citizens. It has never been done in 220 years, so there is no historical or legal precedent. So what are the principles of states rights that allow this State’s rights to be trampled. Seriously, think it over for a while and question that legal authority that says Maryland’s opinion does not matter. I see you are a Virginian. What if Congress voted to give the land to Virginia — without its consent. Conservatives have to think this through.

  12. There’s fairly good legal authority that says that Maryland’s opinion doesn’t really matter.

    If Congress wants to retrocede, it can arguably do so without getting Maryland’s consent.

    Additionally, it’s fairly clear that D.C. Statehood itself would require a Constitutional Amendment.

  13. That’s your opinion, Doug.

    Have you asked Maryland about retrocession?

    Nope, I didn’t think so.

  14. AY, do some more reading before you post. It included the thriving towns of Georgetown, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, at the time it was accepted by Congress in 1800.

  15. Statehood is technically an option.

    In practice it would be absurd.

    The idea that an area with less square footage than any other city in the country and a smaller population than the smallest state should have two Senators in addition to a vote on the House floor is just absurd.

    Retrocession, that’s the answer

  16. There are three ways to achieve voting representation

    1. Constitutional amendment.

    2. Retrocession to Maryland, but this requires both a law passed by Congress and a law passed by the Maryland legislature giving that State’s consent. The retrocession of Arlington and Alexandria City was approved by a referendum of the residents in 1846 (although Arlington, known as Alexandria County at the time, voted against it) and by the Virginia legislature in 1847.

    3. Statehood, which requires a law passed by Congress.

  17. What’s fascinating to me is that apparently a lot of Democrats who very strongly favor representation for the District are even more infatuated with DC’s gun laws.


  18. The good news for those of us who, like Professor Turley, recognize that this bill was an obvious violation of the Constitution is that this is probably the high-water mark for this bill for quite some time.

    The only reason the bill made it this far was because the Senate had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. That isn’t the case anymore, and it surely won’t be the case after November 2nd.

    And before anyone says anything, no I am not against the idea of the citizens of the District having voting representation in Congress per se, I just don’t think it should be done in a way that violates the Constitution.

    There are two options:

    1. A Constitutional Amendment giving D.C. voting representation in the House


    2. Retrocession of the non-federal parts of D.C. to Maryland. It was already done once, in 1830, when Congress gave Virginia back the land west of the Potomac that it had donated for a Federal District. That land is now Arlington County, Virginia.

    Of the two, I prefer the second.

  19. I was under the impression that the site was picked because it was about half-way between the states and that not one should be able to control DC. But hell the part I read may have been just revisionist history to start.

    I do know that it was a swamp, a waste land that no one wanted to start with and it was not until T.R. Roosevelt finally had the last swamp drained. Now if they could reclaim the swamp land it would be a good start, You see mitigation does not really work. You just get a different type of rat.

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