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Despite Democratic Gains Voting Rights Uncertain

The Washington Informer, News Report, Talib I. Karim Posted: Feb 10, 2009

The District of Columbia was designated the nations capital on Dec. 1, 1800. In the two centuries since its creation, the inhabitants of the District have never enjoyed the rights as full citizens of the nation.

At least two Members of Congress and the Districts non-voting Delegate believe that 200 years of unequal citizenship is long enough. At the start of the 111th Congress, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) along with Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced the D.C. House Voting Rights Act of 2009, H.R. 157. The legislation is identical to that which passed the House in 2007 but was essentially killed in the Senate.

The bill provides one vote for the citizens of the District of Columbia and an additional vote for the citizens of Utah, a traditional Republican stronghold. Additionally, the bill adds two permanent seats to the U.S. House of Representatives, bringing the number to 437. With a near filibuster proof majority in the Senate, expanded majority in the House, and an African American Democrat in the White House, the D.C. Voting Rights Act of 2009 was considered as having a good chance of becoming law.

Norton, who was amongst the hand-picked guests for President Barack Obamas White House Super Bowl party, believes that the District can count on Obamas support for the D.C. Voting Rights Bill.

Norton received criticism about the Bill from District leaders like Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. While applauding Norton for her past voting rights leadership, Thomas contended that a provision of the current Bill would limit the District to one voting member in the U.S. House of Representatives, regardless of reapportionment rules that apply to all states in the country. Thomas critique contemplated the 2010 census when each Congressional district in the House is scheduled to be redrawn based upon population.

However, Norton, who is also a constitutional law professor, asserts that if the District wins a full House seat now, then the District would be entitled to possibly two or more if its census count dictated such.

Im sorry, the constitution makes [that point] clear, Norton said.

Councilmember Thomas nonetheless asserts, We must maintain our resolve and keep our eyes on the prize of full voting representation in both houses of our Congress.

This sentiment was not lost on Republicans of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, which convened the final week in January to take up the D.C. Voting Rights Bill. Congressional Republicans have long opposed any move in the House that would lead to two more Democratic seats in the Senate.

Constitutional Law Professors Viet D. Dinh and Jonathan Turley, questioned by the Subcommittees Republicans about this notion of expanded rights for the District, were in agreement. The Voting Rights legislation could have the unintended consequence of giving District residents full representation in the U.S. Senate.

If the Bill is signed into law, Turley contends that before the District picked up its Senate seats, the law would be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. On the contrary, Dinh believes the Bill would survive a high court challenge.

If its upheld, then the Court could judicially decree two Senators, Dinh said.

Full voting rights cant come soon enough for Captain Yolanda Lee, a D.C. National Guard officer who testified before the subcommittee. Lee, an Iraq War Veteran, spoke of the hypocrisy of her being sent to Iraq to bring democratic rights to Iraqis when she and four generations of her family have been denied the rights in their native D.C. Lee urged Congress to grant her full citizenship rights.

I ask you to change my status as an American citizen who pays taxes and serves in war, but is entitled only to a non-voting delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives, Lee pleaded.

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