Washington, DC: A Federal City The Constitution is Clear
The Constitution of the United States
- Congress Doesn't Have the Authority: Congress lacks the
constitutional authority to simply grant the District a voting
representative, as the Constitu-tion explicitly limits such
representation to states alone. Members of Congress are bound by
their oath to reject proposals that violate the Constitution.
- Article I, Section 2: "Representatives...shall be
apportioned among the several States." The District, as courts and
Congress have long agreed, is not a state.
- Article I, Section 8: "The Congress shall have power ...
To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over
such District as may, by cession of par-ticular states, and the
acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the
United States." Congress has the same power over "forts, magazines,
arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings"--and it's obvious
that Congress can't give a Navy pier or a federal building a seat
in the House.
The Framers Had a Plan: The Framers' plan created a
"federal town" designed to serve the needs of the federal
government, as all Members of Congress would share the
responsibility of protecting a city they live and work in.
Designed to Have Benefits
- Design: The Framers understood that the lack of a voting
representative would be a prominent characteristic of a federal
district, and that residency in such a district would be
compensated by the attention given to the district by all the
members of Congress, who would exercise collective responsibility
for the federal district in which they worked and many lived.
- Benefits: Our Founders' intent has been realized. In the
19th Century, Congress funded the development of the city. In the
20th Century, it developed the National Mall and beautified the
city. The rationale for the special treatment is that it is
Congress's collective responsibility to promote the interests of
- Today's Budget: Congress today funds more than 20% of
the city's operating budget and provide substantial funding for
local amenities including the subway. In 2005, the city received
$5.50 in federal spending for every dollar paid in federal taxes;
more than double what any actual state receives.
- Eleanor Holmes Norton: The District's delegate boasts on
her website that the city will receive greater financial support
from the "Stimulus" than many states.
- Constitutional Amendment: Congress cannot alter the
Constitution by itself; an amendment, passed by two-thirds of the
House and Senate and ratified by 38 states, is required.
- Statehood: While the Constitution grants Congress
authority to legislate for the District, this does not grant
Congress the authority to violate other provisions of the
Constitution. Thus, Congress can no more rely on this authority to
add a representative in violation of the Art. I, § 1
requirement that representatives be apportioned to the several
"states" than it could rely on the Post Office Clause to ban
criticism of the Post Office, which would violate the First
- Precedent: Granting the city a voice in presidential
elections required an amendment, the 23rd. The last serious attempt
to give the District voting representation was in the form of an
amendment, which passed Congress but was not ratified by the
required number of states.
- Liberal Scholars Agree: Liberal Constitutional scholar
Jonathan Turley, an advocate of direct congressional representation
for DC, says it would be "ridiculous to suggest" that delegates to
the Constitutional Convention would have worked out such specific
language and rules for Congress "only to give the majority of
Congress the right to create a new form of voting members from
federal enclaves like the District."
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