This past Tuesday, the House of Representatives’ Committee on the Judiciary held a incendiary debate concerning the D.C. House Voting Rights Act (H.R. 157) – a bill to grant the District a seat in Congress.

In 2007, the Voting Rights Act passed the House of Representatives but was filibustered in the Senate. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), D.C.’s non-voting Congresswoman, recently reintroduced the bill to Congress.

The current legislation would give one congressional vote to the District of Columbia and a fourth vote to Utah, which nearly qualified for another congressional vote after the last U.S. census. Despite criticisms of the bill, supporters remain optimistic that it will pass because of support from President Obama and a larger majority of Democrats in Congress.

“I have every reason to believe that the bill will pass in both the House and the Senate. When he was a senator, President Obama supported the legislation, and I would hope that he would sign it,” said Scott Fleming, the associate vice president for federal relations at Georgetown University.

Public Interest Law Professor Jonathan Turley, of The George Washington University, has spoken out against the bill arguing that even if the bill receives enough votes to pass, it should not be instituted because it is unconstitutional.

Opponents of the bill claim that giving D.C. a congressional vote would violate Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that representatives must be chosen by “the people of the several states.” Turley and others have argued that because D.C. is not a state, its residents do not qualify for representation in Congress.

Proponents of the D.C. Votes bill, such as Viet Dinh, a Georgetown law professor and former U.S. assistant attorney general for legal policy, argued for the constitutionality of a voting D.C. representative. Dinh states that there is a long-standing tradition for considering the District as a state for various court proceedings. Norton posed a different argument and cited the collection of the federal income tax as further evidence of the bill’s constitutionality.

In an effort to convince representatives of the constitutionality of the bill, Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights spoke in its favor and provided a signed letter from 20 constitutional experts supporting District representation.

Another proposal for D.C. representation, given at the Congressional hearing, would involve the retrocession of the District into Maryland. The District was originally formed on land ceded from Virginia and Maryland to the federal government. Virginia’s land was eventually returned, meaning that the current District of Columbia is actually situated in what used to be Maryland. The return of the District’s land, with the exception of the area surrounding the White House and the Capitol building, to its northern neighbor would mean D.C. residents, as new Marylanders, would have representation in Congress.

Unfortunately for proponents of the retrocession, the state of Maryland is so far uninterested in having the District back.

Additionally, Norton argued that retrocession would raise issues about state sovereignty and would cause more problems than it would solve.

The D.C. Statehood Green Party has yet another idea of what ought to be done with the District. They are calling for the D.C. Votes Act to be thrown out on grounds that a single representative for the District isn’t enough. According to the party, only statehood will bring about the equality guaranteed for D.C. residents under the constitution. The D.C. Statehood Green Party argued that voting rights are reversible and can be taken away at any time, whereas statehood is permanent.

“D.C. statehood will end Congress’s authority over all D.C. laws, policies and budgets. It will also provide full voting representation in Congress – two senators, one representative, giving D.C. residents the same representation that all other Americans enjoy. The `D.C. Voting Rights’ bill, the one introduced in Congress by Del. Norton, will not provide these things,” said Scott McLarty, media coordinator for the D.C. Statehood Green Party.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D- Md.), a strong supporter of the D.C. Voting Rights Act, plans to schedule a full House vote on the issue in the near future.

Although it is not guaranteed that the D.C. Voting Rights Act will pass, proponents of the bill are optimistic that the District will finally receive a voting member of Congress after 200 years of “taxation without representation.”

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