Davis’ D.C. Plan Gets Legal Aid

Posted November 19, 2004 at 4:49pm

Bolstered by legal analysis arguing his proposal to create a new House seat for the District of Columbia is constitutionally sound, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) will renew efforts to establish a new Congressional seat for the city when the 109th Congress convenes next year.

The 23-page document commissioned by the Government Reform Committee, which Davis chairs, examines whether Congress has the constitutional authority to implement provisions in the District of Columbia Fairness in Representation Act, which he introduced earlier this year.

That legislation, which stalled in subcommittee, would temporarily expand the House to 437 seats, creating one for D.C. and a fourth district in Utah, which fell short of receiving a new seat after the 2000 reapportionment.

Following the 2010 Census and reapportionment, the House would contract to 435 seats but would preserve the D.C. district.

Davis spokesman David Marin said the analysis should remove doubts about whether the bill is legally viable.

“We think with this opinion we remove a significant hurdle attached to this legislation,” Marin said. “We now have an answer to those who say you have to amend the Constitution to grant voting rights to District residents.”

The report, authored by Georgetown University Law Center’s Viet Dinh, an attorney with the firm Bancroft Associates, and Adam Charnes, of the firm Kilpatrick Stockton, asserts Congress has “ample authority” under the Constitution’s “District Clause,” Section 1 article 8 clause 17, to provide the District representation in the House.

“There are no indications, textual or otherwise, to suggest that the Framers intended that Congressional authority under the District Clause, extraordinary and plenary in all other respects, would not extend also to grant District residents representation in Congress,” the authors state. “Denying the residents of the District the right to vote in elections for the House of Representatives was neither necessary nor intended by the Framers to achieve this purpose.”

The Davis bill, which the Virginia lawmaker plans to reintroduce in the 109th Congress, is one of four proposals pending in the House to create Congressional representation in the District, which is currently served only by a nonvoting Delegate in the House.

The others, sponsored by Reps. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), range from retrocession of the District to Maryland to full Congressional representation.

“Although we have limited our opinion to analyzing the legal basis of Congressional authority to enact the District of Columbia Fairness in Representation Act and have not ventured a view on its policy merits,” the analysis states, “we note that it is at least ironic that residents of the Nation’s capital continue to be denied the right to select a representative to the ‘People’s House.’”

D.C. Shadow Rep. Ray Browne (D), who lobbies for statehood and voting rights as part of the District’s three-member Shadow delegation, praised the report’s findings.

“This opinion makes it clear that the Congress has the power to allow those who are other than citizens of states to vote and send people to Congress,” Browne said, later adding, “The ground on which to resist this effort is shrinking rapidly.”