GOP Will Fight Delegates’ Voting Rights

Posted February 6, 2007 at 6:36pm

Republicans are preparing this week to launch their effort to counteract a recently enacted House rule that allows Delegates to vote in the Committee of the Whole.

Delegates will have an opportunity to vote in the Committee of the Whole on Thursday, the first time since the 103rd Congress they have had the right to do so. But Republicans are planning to call for revotes and are contemplating taking legal action.

“Many of our Members believe it was a mistake the last time this happened 14 years ago not to appeal this case beyond the Court of Appeals,” Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told reporters Tuesday. “They also believe a stronger case can be made than was made 14 years ago about this whole issue of Delegate votes.”

When asked when leaders would decide what to pursue, he said only, “Soon.”

“We’ll be in the leadership to decide how much that will be a leadership issue or if a group of Members wants to take that on, as is often the case,” he said.

Until that decision is made, Republicans are expected to express their opposition on the House floor. Republicans plan to call for revotes on measures on which Delegates cast votes, Blunt spokeswoman Burson Snyder said.

“Republicans feel like this is a violation of a clearly defined constitutional principle,” Snyder said.

The House approved the rules change last month. Under the new procedure, the Delegates can vote on measures presented in the House but not on the final package. Delegate votes that affect the eventual outcome also would be thrown out.

Supporters have said the vote is a symbolic way for Democratic Dels. Madeleine Bordallo (Guam), Donna Christian-Christensen (V.I.), Eni Faleomavaega (American Samoa), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) and Republican Res. Com. Luis Fortuño (P.R.) to participate in democracy.

After Democrats initiated the rules change in the 103rd Congress, Republicans filed suit. Eventually, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the rules change is constitutional because it does not affect the overall outcome of a vote.

The lawsuit never made it to the Supreme Court, and when the Republicans took power in the 104th Congress, they threw out the vote, effectively stalling the issue.

Blunt said he intended to speak to former Rep. Bob Michel (Ill.), the GOP leader at the time, on why they did not pursue it further. But Republicans have said they are confident if the vote were to be challenged again in court, they would prevail.

“These are Delegates elected from territories of the United States,” Snyder said. “The Delegates, under the Constitution, should not be casting votes on behalf of their constituents, who do not pay taxes.” (Washington, D.C., residents do pay full federal taxes. Norton is the co-sponsor of a bill currently sitting in the Judiciary Committee that would give D.C. a full House vote.)

Republicans also are opposed to the rules change because the Delegates’ constituent bases are not proportionate to those of full voting Members, Snyder said.

For example, Puerto Rico’s delegation is about 4 million people, while American Samoa’s is under 100,000. The average constituent total for Members is about 650,000 people.

“It’s certainly counter to any principle that would reflect the democracy of the House,” Blunt said.

When the matter was debated on the House floor last month, an array of Members from both sides of the aisle weighed in.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) was among them, arguing the Democrats left Republicans out of the process of introducing the rules change.

“This measure is full of inequities that should have been debated and vetted by Members on both sides of the aisle in committee and elsewhere,” Boehner said. “For example, under the bill, Delegates could vote with their Democrat leadership to raise federal income taxes on the American people, even though the territories they represent are exempt from those same taxes. Similarly, the Delegate from American Samoa could vote for labor laws, such as a minimum-wage hike, that exempt his constituents but apply to all other Americans.”

But Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who introduced the measure, said Democrats were only seeking to spread a sense of democracy to the Delegates.

“Why did the court of appeals rule this to be constitutional? Because it does not diminish any one of the 435 Members in this body,” Hoyer said. “Why? Because this is symbolism. … The Delegates know it. The Delegates know that this is not full voting rights for them or for the people they represent. But it is an opportunity for them to participate.”