Washington, D.C. Voting Rights: George Will is Half-Right But Misses the Point

500,000 Americans without congressional representation is un-American.

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George Will writes lays out a (mostly) cogent case in today's Washington Post against the bill, likely to become law, which would give the District of Columbia a voting member in the House of Representatives. But it fails to address a critical question: How would he apply fundamental principles of representative government to D.C. citizens?

Will makes the strict constructionist argument against a voting member for D.C. States, he notes, get members in the House:

But the District is not a state. It is (as the Constitution says in Article I, Section 8) "the seat of the government of the United States." That is why, in 1978, the District's advocates sent to the states a constitutional amendment requiring that "for purposes of representation" the district would be "treated as though it were a state." Only 16 states ratified it, 22 short of the required number. So the District's advocates decided that an amendment is unnecessary—a statute will suffice because the Constitution empowers Congress "to exercise exclusive legislation" over the District. They argue that this power can be used to, in effect, amend the Constitution by nullifying Article I, Section 2's requirement that House members come from "the several states." This argument, that Congress's legislative power trumps the Constitution, means that Congress could establish religion, abridge freedom of speech and of the press, and abolish the right of peaceful assembly in the District.

That's persuasive reasoning. Less persuasive and more hysterical is this notion:

And, of course, Congress next could give the District two senators. Which probably is the main objective of the Democrats who are most of the supporters of this end run around the Constitution. In the 12 elections since the District acquired, by constitutional amendment, the right to allocate presidential electoral votes, it has never cast less than 74.8 percent of its popular vote for the Democratic presidential candidate.

D.C. is on the verge of getting a voting member because a new House seat for Utah could be paired with it, meaning that each party would get a new safe seat. No such pairing is possible in the Senate. Congress giving D.C. Senate representation would require such overwhelming Democratic majorities that it would as a practical political matter mean that the Republican Party had ceased to exist as a viable political entity. In that case, Will and his ideological brethren would have larger issues.

But back to the main thrust of his column. Maybe he ran out of space on the page, but he somehow failed to address the fundamental issue underlying the push to grant D.C. a voting House member: What alternative does he suggest for getting congressional representation for the 500,000+ U.S. citizens who reside in D.C.? It's a fundamental principle of this country that its citizens should be represented in the federal government, specifically in the federal legislature. Half a million of them are not. (By comparison: D.C.'s population is larger than Wyoming's.)

This is laughably un-American, regardless of whether 74.8 percent of that half-million are Democrats.

Does George Will's outrage over the imminent breach of the Constitution extend to the ongoing breach of the country's founding principles? What do he and other conservatives propose to fix the problem?

And please spare me the hoary argument that if the Founders had intended for D.C. to have voting rights they'd have taken care of it themselves. The city has changed in a way that the Founders didn't anticipate, and now the Constitution should as well.

Anything else is un-American.

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