WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., heard powerful arguments from Republicans and Democrats Tuesday for granting the District of Columbia’s 600,000 residents voting representation in the House of Representatives.
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, lent his considerable support to this year’s effort to right an historic injustice and testified as the first witness. Hatch and Senator Robert Bennett, R-Utah, have both signed onto legislation with Lieberman that would increase the House of Representatives’ 435 seats to 437, adding one for the District of Columbia and one for the state of Utah, to conform with 2000 census figures. Lieberman said he hoped to debate the legislation - the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007, S.1257 - in Committee and report it out to the full Senate in June.
“America is the only democracy in the world that denies the citizens of its capital city democracy’s most essential right - representation in the national legislature. That’s an embarrassment,” Lieberman said. “The people of this city have waited too long for that right. But I believe the tide is now changing and that this is the year we can and will bestow upon the citizens of the District the civic entitlement that every other federal tax-paying American citizen enjoys, no matter where he or she lives…
“Let us not waste this moment. The legislation introduced in both the House and the Senate represents an expression of fairness and inclusivity and an example of what we can do if we work across party lines.”
In addition to Hatch, Republicans testifying in favor of D.C. House voting rights included former Congressman Jack Kemp and former Bush Administration Justice Department official Viet Dinh.
Hatch argued that the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court case law supported efforts by District residents to obtain representation in the House.
“I recognize there are many who strongly oppose this legislation,” he continued. “There are many who wish the District voting rights issue would go away. I must note that this Democratic-controlled Congress could have simply pushed forward with legislation giving the District of Columbia a seat without balancing a ‘Democratic’ seat with a ‘Republican’ seat. I am pleased that Chairman Lieberman was willing to work in a bipartisan manner.
“Indeed, this is a historic time for the citizens of the District of Columbia and a unique opportunity for Utah to receive a long overdue fourth congressional seat. I intend to make the most of it and hope that my fellow Senate colleagues will support me in this endeavor.”
Other witnesses testifying for D.C. House voting rights included D.C. House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Representative Tom Davis, R-Va., who worked across party lines together to pass a bill out of the House similar to the one proposed in the Senate. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Counsel on Civil Rights, also argued that District residents deserve a vote in the House.
Testifying against the legislation was George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley, who said the bill was unconstitutional.