Introduction of the
I am proud to cosponsor the "District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009" to end the unfair treatment of District of Columbia residents and give them voting representation in the House of Representatives. For over 200 hundred years, the residents of th District of Columbia have been denied a voting Member representing their views in Congress. That is wrong, and I hope the Senate will consider this important issue early this year to remedy the disenfranchisement that residents of our Nation's capital have endured.
When the Senate considered this legislation last Congress the Republican minority chose to filibuster the bill. While a majority favored it, we fell short of the 60 votes needed to end the filibuster and pass it. Earlier that year, however, the House of Representatives worked in a bipartisan manner to pass a version of a voting rights bill for the District of Columbia led by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. As a young lawyer, she worked for civil rights and voting rights around the country. It is a cruel irony that upon her return to the District of Columbia, and her election to the House of Representatives, she does not yet have the right to vote on behalf of the people of the District of Columbia who elected her. She is a strong voice in Congress, but the citizens living in the Nation's capital deserve a vote, as well.
The bill introduced today would give the District of Columbia delegate a vote in the House. It would give Utah a fourth seat in the House as well. Last Congress, the Judiciary Committee held hearings on a similar measure and we heard compelling testimony from constitutional experts. They testified that this legislation is constitutional, and highlighted the fact that Congress's greater power to confer statehood on the District certainly contains the lesser one, the power to grant District residents voting rights in the House of Representatives. Congress has repeatedly treated the District of Columbia as a "State" for various purposes. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton testified that although "the District is not a State," the "Congress has not had the slightest difficulty in treating the District as a State, with its laws, its treaties, and for constitutional purposes." Examples of these actions include a revision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that broadened Article III diversity jurisdiction to include citizens of the District even though the Constitution only provides that Federal courts may hear cases "between citizens of different States." Congress has also treated the District as a "State" for purposes of congressional power to regulate commerce "among the several States." The Sixteenth Amendment grants Congress the power to directly taxincomes "without apportionment among the several States," but has been interpreted also to apply to residents of the District.In fact, the District of Columbia pays the second highest Federal taxes per capita without any say in how those dollars are spent.
I believe that this legislation is within Congress’s powers as provided in the Constitution. I agree with Congressman John Lewis, Congresswoman Norton and numerous other civil rights leaders and constitutional scholars that we should extend the basic right of voting representation to the hundreds of thousands of Americans residing in the District of Columbia. These Americans pay Federal taxes, defend our country in the military and serve on Federal juries.
This is an historic measure that holds great significance within the civil rights community and for the residents of the District of Columbia. I urge Senators to do what is right and to support this bill when it comes to the floor for full Senate consideration.
Over 50 years ago, the Senate overrode filibusters to pass the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Congressman Lewis, a courageous leader during those transformational struggles decades ago, gave moving testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Congress in which he reminded us that we in Congress must do all we can to inspire a new generation to fulfill the mission of equal justice. The Senate should continue to fight for the fundamental rights of all Americans and stand united in serving this noble purpose. No person’s right to vote should be abridged, suppressed or denied in the United States of America. Let us move forward together and provide full voting rights for the citizens in our Nation's capital.
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