Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today voted in support of providing the District of Columbia with a vote in the House of Representatives.
Senator Feinstein is a co-sponsor of the legislation, the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007. The bill was sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Bob Bennett (R-Utah).
This afternoon, the Senate voted 57-42 in favor of a procedural motion to limit debate on the legislation. Without the necessary 60 votes, the motion was denied.
The following is Senator Feinstein’s statement entered into the Congressional Record:
“Mr. President, S. 1257, the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007 is an important and consequential bill.
The bill before us would increase the 435-seat House of Representatives to 437 seats, by providing:
- one seat for a Voting Member in D.C., which is predominately Democratic; and
- one additional seat for Utah, which is predominately Republican.
And it does it in a way that doesn’t give advantage to one political party over the other.
The time has come to give the District a voice and a vote in the House of Representatives.
I encourage my colleagues to support this legislation.
The legislation is sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee; Senator Orrin Hatch; and my distinguished Ranking Member on the Rules Committee, Senator Robert Bennett. I am a co-sponsor this legislation.
The District of Columbia occupies an interesting and unique place in the United States:
- It covers just 61.4 square miles, sandwiched between Virginia and Maryland;
- Yet with more than 580,000 residents, the population of the District surpasses that of the entire state of Wyoming;
- The District of Columbia is the seat of American government;
- The United States Congress determines the laws for the District, the Federal Government impacts the District’s transportation system, health system, and police function;
- D.C. residents pay the second highest per capita federal income taxes in the country;
- And District residents have sacrificed their lives defending our nation. During World War I, World War II, Vietnam, the Korean War, and today in Iraq, they have fought for our democracy.
Despite all this, D.C. residents have no vote in how the federal government operates.
‘No taxation without representation,’ the colonists told King George in the late 1700’s. We cannot allow this lack of representation to continue during the 21st Century.
Today, the District of Columbia has a non-voting representative in Congress – Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton.
She has been vocal in representing the interests of the residents of D.C., but she is unable to cast a vote on the House floor to ensure that voice is heard.
This makes little sense.
We now have an opportunity to change this, and to strike the right balance while doing it.
The bill before us would add two seats to the House of Representatives, one for the District of Columbia, and one for Utah.
Utah was next in line for a fourth congressional district representation in the House, according to 2000 population census data.
At that time, Utah was only 856 residents away from becoming eligible for an additional seat.
So, this legislation strikes the appropriate balance by allowing additional representation for both D.C. and Utah without disadvantaging either national political party.
In the last two hundred years, Congress has not granted House representation to the District of Columbia by statute. And whether such a federal law is constitutional has never been before the courts.
As a result, critics of the legislation have argued that a bill providing for a vote for the District representative is unconstitutional.
However, a bipartisan group of academics, judges and lawyers argue that Congress has the authority and historical precedents to enact federal law. And I agree with their view.
The Constitution vests in Congress broad power to regulate national elections and plenary authority over D.C. under ‘The District Clause’ (Article I, section 8, clause 17).
This clause permits Congress wide discretion to grant rights to the District of Columbia, including for the purposes of congressional representation.
From 1790 to 1800, Congress allowed District residents to vote in congressional elections in Virginia and Maryland.
This was allowed not because they were residents of those states, but because Congress acted within its’ District Clause authority.
Constitutional scholars from the right and the left, the most notable conservatives being Judge Kenneth Star and Prof. Viet Dinh, believe this legislation is constitutional.
These scholars reference the sweeping authority of ‘the District Clause,’ which provides that ‘The Congress shall have power … to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever’ over the District of Columbia.
In addition to believing that Congress can pass this legislation, I believe there are strong reasons why it should pass this legislation.
D.C. is affected, perhaps more directly than any other U.S. jurisdiction, by the actions of Congress.
Citizens of the District, rich and poor, work in this town and work in the industries of law, policy, business, tourism, academia and medicine.
They pay high taxes; they face the challenges of living in one of the major cities in the United States.
This legislation would provide D.C. with permanent voting rights for the first time in over 200 years.
From the Boston Tea Party and ‘no taxation without representation’ to the suffragettes and struggles over voting rights in the 1960’s, the goal of American society has been to bring a voice to citizens who were voiceless.
Voting is the voice of democracy.
This political limbo that Congress has placed on the District has run its course.
It is time to give the District a voice and a vote in the House of Representatives.
This important step can not only right this wrong, but can do it without causing partisan rancor or disadvantage to any party.
What is at stake here is nothing less than a fundamental fairness voting issue.
This bill is consistent with the historical precedents of Congress’s role in protecting and preserving the right to vote, regardless of color or class, age or gender, disability or original language, party or precinct, and geography domestic or foreign.
It is the right thing to do and the 21st Century is the right times to do it.
I urge my colleagues to join me in taking up and passing this bill on a majority vote in the full Senate.