Washingtonians to Hold Mass Rally on Hill Today

Posted February 14, 2007 at 5:48pm

If you hear chants of “No taxation without representation” on Capitol Hill today, don’t panic and think it’s 1776 all over again.

Hundreds of Washington, D.C., residents are expected to brave the cold, snowy weather to rally in support of the D.C. Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act. Joined by dozens of politicians and government officials, the group will visit Member offices to push for passage of the bill, which would grant the District a full House vote for the first time in history.

“It’s going to be a great day, and we are just hoping that the weather cooperates,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the advocacy group DC Vote.

D.C. Del Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), has been pushing for a March floor vote on the measure.

The Delegate has arranged for D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) and City Council Chairman Vincent Gray (D) to meet with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at noon to talk about the importance of the bill, Norton’s office announced Wednesday.

“The Mayor is very encouraged by [today’s] Congressional education day,” Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said. “And [he] is happy to speak the truth to power. The 535 people who serve in Congress have the power to set us [in] the District free, to give us the same rights as other Americans — rights we shouldn’t have to beg for.”

While the event has been in the works for weeks, it might be timed just right for the latest developments in the fight over the legislation. The constitutionality of the bill came under scrutiny this week after the public release of a Congressional Research Service report that suggested the measure might not hold up in court.

Supporters have fought back in recent days, however, hitting the airwaves and releasing opinions from constitutional scholars that argue the bill is legally valid. They further argue that since there is little case law on the subject, Congress should pass the bill and let the judicial branch handle it.

“We believe that the weight of constitutional opinion is with the District,” Norton said.

Also expected to attend today’s rally is House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.). The bill currently sits in the Judiciary Committee, where a hearing on it has not yet been scheduled.

Utah Rep. Chris Cannon (R) is set to show Beehive State support for the bill as well. The compromise measure grants Republican-leaning Utah an additional House seat to counter the District’s Democratic stronghold.

Council members Carol Schwartz (R-At-Large), Kwame Brown (D-At-Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) also are expected to be in attendance.

The day actually is the first in a series of planned rallies for D.C. voting rights. The largest event will take place April 16 — D.C. Emancipation Day — when Fenty and Norton lead a march from D.C.’s Freedom Plaza to Capitol Hill.

And gaining a House vote isn’t the only thing on Norton’s agenda. On Wednesday, she introduced a measure to eliminate Congressional review of city laws that have been passed by the City Council and approved by the mayor.

The Congressional review period is 30 legislative days for civil laws and 60 legislative days for criminal measures. That process can tie up the enforcement of laws for months.

In recent years, however, Congress rarely has sought to overturn laws already approved by the city. Plus, Norton argues, Congress still can step in using constitutional provisions if it so desires.

The bill is part of Norton’s “Free and Equal D.C. Series,” a set of measures designed to give the city more control over its local matters.

Last month, she introduced a bill that would let the city enact its own budget without Congressional oversight. Earlier this year, the House passed a measure to authorize the design of quarters for D.C. and the other territories.