Norton Renews D.C.’s Statuary Hall Effort

Posted May 25, 2007 at 5:25pm

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass and architect Pierre L’Enfant could soon be standing alongside George Washington, Father Damien and Sakakawea.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) has once again introduced a measure that would allow the District of Columbia, like the 50 states, to place two statues of its historic figures in Statuary Hall.

Norton has pushed to give D.C. spots in the hall in several past Congresses, including last session. This year, however, she is optimistic about the bill’s chances, as the new Democratic regime might make it a priority to provide a place for D.C. native Douglass and L’Enfant, who is best known for designing the layout of the District.

The bill is the sixth piece of Norton’s “Free and Equal D.C.” series, which seeks to garner the city more independence and equality in its legislative affairs. Norton also is seeking to give the city its own locally elected district attorney, as well as budget and legislative autonomy.

Norton said Democratic leaders have been more willing to give D.C. autonomy than past Congresses mainly because they want to focus on other priorities.

“I think the fact that we have a Congress who doesn’t want to tend to a local jurisdiction and wants to get back to tending to national business says it all,” Norton said.

The willingness of the Democratic leadership to make the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act a priority this session (it passed the House 241-177 in April) proves that Democrats care about D.C. concerns, Norton said.

“D.C. residents have not yet obtained the same political equality and voting rights as the citizens of the states. … The least we should do is to give this city its rightful and equal place in the Capitol,” Norton said.

The D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities already has started work on the statues, which will sit in City Hall until the bill passes in Congress. Norton predicted Members would respond well to the city’s choices.

“They are national figures,” Norton noted. “Who could object to having Pierre L’Enfant and Frederick Douglass in the Capitol?”

Norton’s bill is expected to be referred to the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over matters related to the Capitol itself. A spokeswoman for the panel declined comment Friday, but Norton said she believes she is likely to get the support of newly appointed Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.), who took over for the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.).

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the budget and legislative autonomy bills soon after the recess, Norton said.

Norton led a similar fight to get the District recognition alongside the states earlier this year when she introduced a measure to create a circulating quarter for D.C. and the territories.

That bill passed the House in January.

Each state commissions two statues to sit in Statuary Hall or nearby areas such as the Rotunda and Hall of Columns.

The hall is designed to provide visitors to the Capitol an opportunity to honor leading Americans who came from their home states. New Mexico officially was the last state to provide a piece to the collection when it sent a marble statue of Tewa leader Po’pay to the Capitol in 2005.

Virginia commissioned statues of President George Washington and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Statues from neighboring Maryland feature former Sen. Charles Carroll, who was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, and revolutionary figure John Hanson, who served as “President of the United States in Congress Assembled” under the Articles of Confederation.