House moves to give D.C. residents a vote

Representation would be linked to adding a member from Utah

April 20, 2007|By Karoun Demirjian | Karoun Demirjian,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON — Taxation Without Representation" - emblazoned on District of Columbia license plates - could be on its way out. The House voted 241-177 yesterday to give the District a voting representative in Congress.

"This has been a 206-year labor of love," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, a nonvoting delegate who represents Washington's 550,000 people.

However, the fate of the measure is uncertain in the Senate, where Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, is expected to introduce a version of the bill soon. And President Bush might veto a D.C.-representation bill, White House aides hinted.

The legislation approved yesterday would give the heavily Democratic city a full-fledged House member for the first time. In addition, staunchly Republican Utah would gain an at-large House seat, boosting the number of House seats from 435 to 437.

Utah came up 857 residents short of gaining another House seat in the 2000 census. The state protested that to the Supreme Court, claiming the census had not counted several Mormon missionaries serving abroad.

The idea to link voting rights in Utah and the District of Columbia came from Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"This has always been the way we've done this," said Davis, citing a pattern of expanding representation in politically balanced pairs, as in 1950, when Republican-leaning Alaska and Democratic-leaning Hawaii were given seats in the House and Senate simultaneously.

But even as Democrats moved the legislation to the floor yesterday, most Republicans continued to argue that giving District residents representation in Congress would directly contravene the Constitution. They said the Constitution requires that the House "shall be composed of members chosen ... by the people of the several states," which D.C. is not.

Opponents also said the bill was an attempt to avoid lengthy procedures to give the District a vote, such as by a constitutional amendment, that had failed in the past.

In the end, 22 Republicans voted for the bill.

Its supporters, led by Norton, Davis and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, argued that the framers of the Constitution - who wrote and signed the document years before the District of Columbia was carved out of Maryland and Virginia - would not have intentionally disenfranchised citizens.

The bill rests on the authority given to Congress under Article I, Section 8 to make laws for non-state districts and territories, which Congress has used in the past to extend other states-only rights and obligations - such as the obligation to pay taxes and the right to appear in federal courts - to District residents.

"Washington, D.C., is the only capital in a democracy in the entire world that does not have a voting representative in its parliament," Hoyer said. "The continued disenfranchisement of more than a half-million Americans is unconscionable, indefensible and wrong."

Karoun Demirjian writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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