White House Advisors Come Out Against D.C. Voting Rights

March 21, 2007

The White House released a statement today saying that if Congress passes a bill to allow D.C. residents to be represented in Congress, the President's top advisors "would recommend that he veto the bill."  The House is currently considering a bill to allow D.C. residents to elect a Member of Congress, while also granting an additional seat to the conservative state of Utah.  The White House statement joins the opinion of several conservatives who argue that the bill is unconstitutional because it treats residents of the District of Columbia as if they were citizens of states.

At a recent ACS panel, entitled Voting Representation for the District of Columbia, D.C. Appleseed Executive Director Walter Smith argued that these constitutional concerns are unfounded, citing Supreme Court precedent showing that Congress may extend to D.C. residents the same constitutional rights granted to residents of a state:

The closest case that we have to the current situation is a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the power of the Congress under the District Clause to confer on District residents a right that the Constitution gives only to states. This is a case called Tidewater

Tidewater grew out of the fact that early in our history, Chief Justice Marshall held for the Supreme Court that under diversity jurisdiction, created under Article III of the Constitution, which gives rights only to citizens of states to invoke diversity jurisdiction to go into federal court. The Supreme Court held that, under that clause of Article III, citizens of the District of Columbia cannot be treated as if they are citizens of states, and he invited Congress then to address that issue.

Congress did address that issue, and in the early 1940s Congress passed a law, under the District Clause, treating District residents as if they were citizens of states for purposes of Article III.