AP Reporter Fails to Describe Constitutional Objection to DC Congressional Seat Bill
In his report last Thursday (HT Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em) on Congress's passage of a bill that would grant congressional representation for the District of Columbia, Associated Press writer Jim Abrams opened with nearly celebratory language. He also noted the existence of a constitutional objection to the law but failed to explain how ironclad that objection most likely is:
The people of the District of Columbia moved a step closer Thursday to gaining voting rights denied to them for more than 200 years.
But the legislation passed by the House on a 241-177 vote faced a veto threat from the White House, which said the bill was unconstitutional.
In recounting a previous such effort and its results at the end of his report, Abrams missed an easy opportunity to explain why what the House did should be irrelevant:
Congress approved a constitutional amendment in 1978 giving the district a vote in the House, but the amendment died after failing to get ratification by three-fourths of the states. In 1993 the House rejected a proposal to put the district on the road to statehood.
There's a reason that Congress, then-President Carter, and the state legislatures attempted the rigorous constitutional-amendment process nearly 30 years ago: It is the only constitutionally permissible way that such a change can be made. The plain language of Article I, Section 2 states that "The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states...." DC is not a state, and thus cannot have voting congressional representatives.
The only way around this impediment is to actually amend the Constitution to allow congressional representation for DC. 30 years ago, a constitutionally grounded government (relatively speaking) understood that. Today, the majority of representatives appear to be so constitutionally illiterate that they don't believe the amendment process is necessary (either that, or they are throwing a bone to their constituents, knowing full well that what they are doing won't fly). But the fact is that anything short of an amendment will be judged unconstitutional by any federal court faithfully carrying out its duties (which is, unfortunately, not a given).
Abrams owed his readers the constitutional context just explained, and did not deliver it. A simple statement that "The administration believes that such a change can only be made by passing a constitutional amendment" would have done the job. In failing to properly inform his readers, he implied that the administration's objection is partisan, and not principled. Perhaps that was his goal.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.