• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Lobbying to Violate the Constitution

    Last year, Congress rejected legislation that would violate the Constitution by granting the District of Columbia voting representation in the House of Representatives. But advocates of this plan haven’t given up hope. Instead, voting rights activists have stepped up their lobbying efforts, and Roll Call reported last week that they may be about to secure a major victory:

    Washington, D.C., voting rights advocates expect to be able to more openly lobby for representation in the House next year, using money from the District budget.

    A step forward came Tuesday, when the D.C. Council approved a $500,000 budget for DC Vote, an advocacy group that heads up the effort to grant the city a full vote in the House.

    Of course, the city’s fiscal 2009 budget still has to pass Congress and the actual money isn’t new or surprising — the nonprofit has received two such appropriations since 2006.

    But for the first time, the group will likely be able to use the money to actually lobby its cause rather than just lecture on the unbiased facts. That’s because Congress is expected to jettison a rider that in the past has prohibited the use of city funds to lobby for full representation in Congress.

    Voting rights advocates have a point: it isn’t fair that District residents do not have a say in the national legislature. This arrangement is at odds with the principle of consent of the governed, as Matthew Spalding, director of Heritage’s Simon Center for American Studies, argued last year:

    [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmUz0OzTz6Q[/youtube]

    Regardless, the remedy must remain within the bounds of the Constitution. The nation’s highest law limits representation in Congress to states alone, and the District is not a state. The Constitution calls for a District, ceded by the states, to “become the seat of the government of the United States.” It further holds that Congress shall “exercise exclusive legislation” over the nation’s capital, underscoring the point that the jurisdiction cannot be a state or part of a state.

    D.C. Vote continues to push for granting representation “through simple legislation,” and hopes to do so with Congress’ blessing. But members of Congress should look beyond this sort of well-meaning rhetoric and keep in mind that the District of Columbia exists to serve a Constitutional purpose. They should also remember that there are several ways to grant representation without running afoul of the nation’s highest law, such as a Constitutional amendment explicitly granting representation.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to Lobbying to Violate the Constitution

    1. Gerry.Wenham says:

      Fundamental principles will (must, actually, in the long run) trump constitutional provisions. "All men are created" equal trumps the three-fifths provision for non-whites in the original Constitution. "All men are created equal" trumps the Constitutional interpretation in Minor v. Happersett, for example, where the Supreme court found that women were not entitled to vote because they were not "men".

      "Consent of the Governed" is a fundamental principle, as well.

      "6. That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly, ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage, and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for publick uses without their own consent, or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented, for the publick good."

      "15. That no free government, or the blessing of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."

      Virginia Bill of Rights, June, 1776

      Inalienable rights are just that. Inalienable. They cannot be taken away, baragained away, etc. They exist, innate, inherent, intrinsic, inviolable. At most they can be temporarily unrecognized and disrespected.

      Constitutional provisions are intended to implement, express, and protect such fundamantal principles, and to the extent they do so, are worthy of inclusion in our Constitution. To the extent they do not do so, they will eventually be deleted from the Constitution. It is simply a matter of time until thoughtful persons will acknowledge the inconsistency, and the Constitution wil progress even closer to performing its stated goal of achieving a "More Perfect Union."

    2. Gerry.Wenham says:

      The District Clause (Art. I Section 8 Clause 17) of the Constitution is eerily similar to the Declaratory Act of 1766 from the British Parliament. In each case, a national government tries to arrogate to itself absolute power over an unrepresented minority of the nation, "in all cases whatosever". (They even used eerily similar language!)

      Principles like "Consent of the Governed" were ignored in the writing of the District Clause. That and other flaws in our original Constitution must eventually, inevitably, be remedied. Whatever the need for the District in the era when the Constitution was written, the age of weak central government that needed protection from the powerful States has changed. The perhaps unwarranted influence arising from personal proximity to the government has changed, in an era that has replaced horses and hand-carried letters with cars, trains, planes, fax, email, satellites, etc.

      Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Congress' absolute power over the District is no exception. The sooner this anachronistic anomaly is corrected the better, for the perfection of our Union.

      "Bad principles in a government, though slow, are sure in their operation, and will gradually destroy it."

      Alexander Hamilton

      Inconsistencies between a government's stated principles and its actual behavior will destroy it, if slowly, just as surely.

    3. Gerry.Wenham says:

      And I cannot let

      "The Constitution and Voting Representation for the District of Columbia"

      by Nathaniel Ward July 26, 2007

      go unanswered when he argues that Congress could solve the problem by ending Federal Taxation or that District residents could solve the problem individually by moving elesewhere. He does his reputation and standing harm by including such arguments with other reasonable considerations.

      Although "Taxation without Representation" is a popular phrase to express the frustration of the residents of the District, the root of the problem lies in the failure to provide for "Consent of the Governed", and that cannot be easily remedied by forgoing the taxes paid by District residents. "Inalienable" rights such as voting, such as the right to consent to the laws under which one is governed, can neither be bought, sold, nor traded away. Inalienable means innate, inherent, intrinsic.

      As for his argument that Disrtict residents could just move, the colonists could have moved back to Britain, too. Unless DC were to become a depopulated no-man's land (and it is hard to conceive that the Founders intended that) the departure of a District resident still leaves half-a-million American citizens for whom the Congress is not their Congress (they have no voice in the Senate nor vote in the House), the Courts are not their courts (they have had not say in the making of the laws nor the selection of the judges), and even the Constitution is largely not their constitution (they have had no say in the last 16 of the 27 amendments, and will have no say in future ones, until their membership in the Union is respected and recognized by their countrymen). Action on the part of DC residents, therefore, cannot accomplish the necessary result, which that our fellow countrymen recognize and respect the unarguable membership in the nation of those of us who live in DC, and that they honor the fact that we possess the same rights as all other members of the nation. The rights continue to exist, being, as they are, inalienable (innate, inherent, intrinsic). What is needed is the respect for and recognition of those rights by our fellow countrymen. That, in turn, requires principled thinking, and unswerving patriotism, rather than petty partisanship. For two hundred years and more, America has neglected to live up to its potential in this matter. Our creed declares that all men are created equal, and are entitled to the opportunity to grant or withhold consent to the laws under which tehy are governed. It is time we lived up to that creed regarding ALL our countrymen.

      And as to the Union, our forefathers pledged their Lives, their Fortunes, and their Sacred Honor to secure their inalienable rights for themselves and their posterity. One could perhaps argue whether Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, and etc. constitute the posterity of the Founders, but there is no arguing with the fact that residents of the District constitute part of the posterity of the Founders, just as surely as people residing in the several "states". They are, in fact, posterity of the Founders from Maryland, people "of" (derived from) the state of Maryland. Principled patriots will recognize that fact.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×