Point/Counterpoint: What rights should the District of Columbia have?

Point

Emma Claire Sohn: Full voting rights needed for all

Our national history is marked by political controversy spurred by misinterpretations of the Constitution. The most recent of such debates is the proposal of the District of Columbia Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act of 2007 (HR 328). This legislation would grant Washington D.C. one representative in the U.S. House while simultaneously ending a debate spanning years of failed resolutions across the breadth of American politics.

It appears that there is finally a glimmer of hope for prospective voters in Washington D.C. But President Bush has claimed he will employ his dusty veto capabilities to ensure the predominantly democratic district does not gain representation in Congress.

The opposition claims that HR 328 exceeds Congress’ legislative power, but I am hard-pressed to think of a concept less constitutional than denying U.S. citizens – citizens that are taxed and eligible to serve their country in the military – the right to true representative government.

The Constitution defines with a fair amount of specificity the rights of the state and gives a loose outline of the acceptable extension of Congress’ power. This document, however, is brought to you by the same men who penned the three-fifths compromise and denied suffrage to most Americans outside of free white men.

History proves that even founding fathers make mistakes. But our ancestors were inspired by the fundamentals of democracy, and

America’s first politicians recognized the need for a living document to govern their United States. This concept is voiced in the conclusion of Article I, Section 8, giving Congress the power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into

Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” When basic American ideals such as the right to democratic representation are ignored within our government, the entire system is compromised. Just as today I am entitled to the right to vote, citizens living in the shadow of the nation’s capital deserve the same privilege.

Others claim that in order to achieve the right of representation the nation’s capital needs to become a full-fledged state, an unlikely solution for a population just over 500,00 and area of 70 square miles, even in the most liberal of Congresses.

The District of Columbia was created as a neutral safe haven to house our democracy, but has become such at the expense of the rights of its citizens. The Constitution is a to be modified according the needs of We the People.

Giving the residents of D.C. their constitutional right to representation will not bring a partisan home-court advantage to our nation’s capital. It will instead uphold the very ideals of government whose spirit this document maintains -the elevation of human rights as well as an independent legislative system.

The residents of Washington D.C. should be granted fair representation in Congress as a result of these fundamental principles. House Resolution 328 is an effective compromise that will conclude one of the most long-winded debates in U.S. legislative history.

Counterpoint

Lee Feder: District would become too powerful

Recently the buzz regarding a long-standing, but little discussed, regional – national issue has been growing. Advocates of permitting Washington, District of Columbia – also known as our nation’s capital – to have full voting membership in Congress are growing in vocality and number. Unfortunately for them, D.C. should not have full federal representation without becoming the 51st state, which incidentally would create an egregious national conflict of interest.

Perhaps the most obvious reason for not permitting D.C. to have full voting membership lies in the text of the Constitution. Section 8 of Article I explicitly gives Congress the power to govern the District housing the Seat of Government while Section 3 of Article IV explicitly describes the procedure for fully represented states. Obviously, the framers understood the capital and states to be distinct legal entities entitled to different rights and privileges. While I am often the first to liberally interpret the Constitution, these paragraphs leave little room for flexibility. What did our foreparents understand about government that modern pundits now so vehemently question?

The most frequently advocated position that D.C. should remain independent yet have senators and representatives effectively makes it a state, but with a more vague place in American legal hierarchy. Under this arrangement, federal power would be on the same legal plane the states’.

Over one million people died in the Civil War to emphasize that the federal government has ultimate legal supremacy, yet now advocates of “D.C. rights” want to make the two equal.

Moreover, Madison, Monroe, Adams and the rest foresaw an inherent conflict of interest in giving the seat of government standard federal representation.

For example, as the government now functions senators and representatives bring home the bacon in the form of securing government projects for their states and districts. Were the district equally represented, we could reasonably expect the size and number of such pork projects to greatly increase.

Washington is a city with many serious urban problems and our lawmakers spend a significant amount of time there. Given congresspersons’ penchant for self-interested spending, the incentive to clean up and polish the city would be irresistible.

Thus, our tax dollars, in addition to funding the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska would fund equally unnecessary beautification city projects in D.C., Chicago, New York, L.A. and every other American city depend on municipal taxes and some hard fought, justified national grants for such projects, yet D.C. would have easy access to federal dollars because of its unique position as national capital city-state.

If D.C. were a fully represented state, many of the conflict of interest issues would persist but without the legal hierarchical complications. However, had the framers wanted the national capital to be a state, they would have kept it in New York or Philadelphia (which had a reasonably central location). Instead, they elected to grant Congress the power to create a separate district charged with headquartering the federal government, free of power supremacy issues and conflicts of interest.

For those living in D.C. who want voting Congressional representation, I offer this advice: Move to a state – I hear Virginia and Maryland are nice – the legal entity entitled representation by the Constitution.