At first blush it would appear to be a simple matter of fairness and equal rights for all citizens: residents of the District of Columbia should have the same representation in Congress as do residents of Virginia, Ohio, Wyoming and Idaho. That they don’t has given rise to license plates echoing the “Taxation without Representation” battle cry of our Founding Fathers as well as a myriad of calls for Congress to pass laws changing that status quo. There’s a problem, however: such an action would be unconstitutional and a violation of the oaths taken by every member of Congress.
The Foundry over at The Heritage Foundation sums the various points up very neatly in this post, “The Constitution is Clear: DC is a Federal City.”
The Constitution of the United States of America
- Congress Doesn’t Have the Authority: Congress lacks the constitutional authority to simply grant the District a voting representative, as the Constitution explicitly limits such representation to states alone. Members of Congress are bound by their oath to reject proposals that violate the Constitution.
- Article I, Section 2: “Representatives…shall be apportioned among the several States.” The District, as courts and Congress have long agreed, is not a state.
- Article I, Section 8: “The Congress shall have power … To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States.” Congress has the same power over “forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings”—and it’s obvious that Congress can’t give a Navy pier or a federal building a seat in the House.
- The Framers Had a Plan: The Framers’ plan created a “federal town” designed to serve the needs of the federal government, as all Members of Congress would share the responsibility of protecting a city they live and work in.
There’s lots more in the article but 1 thing is quite plain. There’s a method to do this that’s explicitly stated in the Constitution – make a amendment. The fact that this path is difficult and takes time is a feature, not a bug, and it’s no excuse to simply ignore the rules and do what pleases a few out of our body politic. The amendment process was undertaken once with Congress passing the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment in 1978. With its passage by both the House and the Senate the measure was sent to the states for ratification. The Constitution requires three-fourths of the states to ratify the amendment for it to be considered adopted. This required 38 states to ratify it and that must be done within 7 years. When that time elapsed on 22 August, 1985 the amendment failed and the measure was not implemented.
All of the talk and all of the news coverage in the world do not change the facts about what is necessary to provide DC with representatives in the chambers of Congress. Be you for or against it, a Constitutional amendment must pass and be adopted. Everything else is just political theater. I would suggest to those advocating for such a change that their efforts would be better spent trying to get an amendment passed than in seeking useless resolutions.