Editorial: Do Right by D.C.
Two clauses of the U.S. Constitution are in conflict — not for the first time — as Congress considers whether to extend voting rights to the House Delegate from the District of Columbia. We hope Congress will pass the measure and let the courts decide the constitutional issue.
Article 1, Section 2, Clause 1 stipulates that “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second year by the people of the several states.— Opponents say the D.C. voting rights bill is unconstitutional because D.C. is not a state — even though in matters of taxation and interstate commerce, the courts have decided that the District should be treated as though it were a state.
Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 provides that “Congress shall have power … to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever— over the District. This is the basis for Congress granting House representation — and maybe now, a vote — to D.C.
For 220 years, the latter clause has been used to govern and misgovern the District, and it’s being underhandedly employed now by Republicans to block the voting rights bill by linking it to a change in D.C.’s gun laws.
On Feb. 26, for the first time in 30 years, the Senate passed a compromise voting rights bill by a vote of 61-37. While giving a vote to D.C.’s Delegate, a Democrat, it also creates a new, presumably Republican, House seat in Utah.
However, the Senate also passed, 62-36, an amendment to the bill sponsored by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) substantially weakening D.C.’s new gun laws, enacted in response to a Supreme Court decision striking down its old law.
Opponents of gun control easily could have dealt with D.C.’s Firearms Registration Amendment Act separately — and still could do so. Attaching it to the voting rights measure was designed to make it a poison pill and, indeed, it could kill voting rights.
That’s because a similar gun measure may be offered as an amendment in the House and, as in the Senate, it would likely pass because most Republicans and many Democrats from rural districts will vote for it, either out of dedication to the Second Amendment or fear of the National Rifle Association.
If gun amendments are added by both the House and Senate, it will be practically impossible to remove them in conference.
Democratic House leaders hope to bring voting rights to the floor under a closed rule prohibiting any amendments, but they are afraid that an NRA threat to call out Members for a vote for the rule could defeat it. So voting rights is in limbo.
Hoping to ease the way, the House held a hearing Friday at which D.C. public safety officials testified to the dangers presented by the Ensign amendment — such as allowing possession of assault rifles and gun imports from Maryland and Virginia.
We’re convinced that the Ensign amendment is badly written. And that D.C. deserves a vote. Guns and voting ought to be considered separately. And the Supreme Court ought to decide whether Congress can treat the District as a state for purposes of giving its citizens representation as well as taxing them.