I’ve thoroughly enjoyed riling up my friends on the left, Marcus Banks and Venezuelan Army Maj. Marty Stroodler, over the issue of D.C. voting rights. To Justme, I would retort that holding a sign reading “Will Make Political Commentary for Money,” and actually eating because of it, is a wonderful dream.
Washington, D.C., which the Supreme Court relegated to mere and literal footnote status last week, is clearly a banana republic that should be squelched until it learns its lesson.
Well, I’m kidding somewhat. In all this debate, I have been disappointed that no one took up for Washington as a normal American city. When I criticized the city for having no industry to speak of, I was sure I would hear “XM Radio!” (In truth, I just tried to think of another employer to include here that wasn’t 1) out on I-66 or I-270, 2) government, 3) quasi-government, 4) education, or 5) food, and I couldn’t do it. Sorry, Lady Columbia.) The city does have parks, rivers, boats, schools, etc. It deserves dignity as a regular place to grow up in, that just happens to have the capital. Tragically, its transient residential status caused the thousands of readers and commenters of our web logs collectively to bypass this aspect of Washington life.
“Retrocession,” or as I call it, “digestion by Maryland,” would degrade this unique character. I oppose it. Those who say it would free Washington of certain burdens, such as having to run a DMV, miss the point. This would strip Washington of its dignity as a special city. Further, it is impossible. The point of creating a “non-residential ‘federal quarter’” is to solve the voting problem by putting its population into a jurisdiction that has Congressional votes (Maryland) while leaving the part of the city that belongs to all America under federal control. The problem is that such a zone, at the minimum, would have to be a triangle containing the Jefferson Memorial, the White House, and the Supreme Court, and there are a lot of people living within that triangle. Either there would have to be forced evacuations for the purpose of creating a sterile zone, or those people would have to be left out of the plan to give voting rights to all citizens. Moreover, a sterile non-residential zone goes against principles of good city planning (Jacobs) and further debauches a grand old lady.
It seems unlikely that Washington will ever have the population to support two representatives. The city is atrophying and has lost about 40% of its population in the last fifty years; at the same time, the number of people supporting a single House seat grows ever higher. In 2010, the number of people needed for a State to claim two seats will exceed one million — five hundred thousand more than Washington has. Washington’s House delegation, if awarded proportionally to the other States, would never exceed one.
Senate representation is a great question. Logically, if the basis for granting a House seat is that people deserve an equal voice in Congress, then there is no reason not to grant a “full” two seats’ Senate representation. Otherwise, we’ll still have the “second-class status” argument hanging out there. (It was amusing to see Stroodler willing to bargain down to a single seat. Washington been down so long, it don’t know what up is.) But while the great constitutional compromise between the large and small States was to create two bodies, the House for the people and the Senate for the States, it does not justify granting Washington two Senate seats for the simple reason that Washington is not a State. (And we all agreed to leave at least part of Washington a “local government” rather than a State.)
I also find it interesting that in all this, nobody advanced the legal argument that the “District Clause” of the Constitution, art. I, cl. 17 (go here and search for “District”; also read interesting annotations), which provides that the Congress has broad powers to control affairs relating to the District, gives Congress the power to add a seat without a constitutional amendment. But I think this is a bad argument; it’s clear that the clause provides the power to control land use, building restrictions, police authority, and those kinds of things; it doesn’t let Congress restructure the Congress by changing its membership. I think it’s sad that some, including the Utahns colluding with the Democrats to add the seat, want to justify the change on this weak ground, rather than embarking on the lengthy moral crusade of amendment. By granting D.C. electoral votes, the American people have already demonstrated that if the cause is just, they will amend the Constitution even at the expense of their own interests. That is the surest route to solving this problem, whatever the solution may be.