Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Why DC Residents Cannot Vote: A Pesky Piece of Parchment Called the Constitution

Residents of the District of Columbia want a voting representative in Congress, and Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) have introduced legislation to grant their wish (the House has already passed such legislation). This seems perfectly legitimate and long overdue; after all, simply living in the nation's capitol shouldn't disfranchise you.

But the way the franchise is established makes all the difference. As Heritage's Matthew Spalding explains in the below two-minute video, doing so by legislative fiat is unconstitutional. The Constitution created Congress for representatives of the "people of the . . . states," and since DC is not a state but the seat of the federal government, its residents cannot constitutionally claim suffrage.

Yes, this is harsh, especially because District residents certainly pay taxes (whatever happened to no taxation without representation?) But short of redistricting DC into Virginia or Maryland, or both, the only remedy is a constitutional amendment. As Congresswoman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) put it, "The Constitution is clear. Let's follow it or amend it."

Update (5/4): Wikipedia offers a decent overview of the competing arguments. Interesting footnote: John Kerry, George Will and the Congressional Research Service all favor the status quo, while Ken Starr, Viet Dinh and Mike Pence support suffrage.