Is Giving D.C. A Seat In Congress Legal?

On Monday, the Senate takes up an issue that's almost as old as the nation itself; giving the District of Columbia a full vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. But, does the proposal pass the constitutional test?
Washington has shaped much of Eugene Kinlow's family history. Now, reports CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras, he's helping to reshape two hundred years of his city's history.

"We want to be just like everyone else in America and have representation, people to represent our interests fully on Capitol Hill," Kinlow says.

The Capitol may be visible from Kinlow's neighborhood, but in its corridors, his sole elected official - can't even be called a "Representative." "Delegate" Eleanor Holmes Norton can talk on the floor and vote in committee - but she can't vote on any final bill, like the stimulus package. Not, says Norton, what the founding fathers intended.

"The framers went to war on the slogan of no taxation without representation," Norton says.

That's the state's unofficial motto - found even on license plates.

"Having somebody represent you in Congress is really like apple pie," Norton says. "It comes with being American."

District of Columbia residents are now close to getting their wish, Assuras reports. Next week, Congress takes up legislation that would give the largely Democratic district a House seat and another to Republican-leaning Utah. It's next in line for a seat based on population.

But there are plenty of opponents. Article i of the constitution says representatives are elected "by the people of the several states".

"This bill is flagrantly unconstitutional," says Jonathan Turley.

Unconstitutional, says Turley, who teaches at George Washington Law School, because Washington is not a state. And, he says, the bill would set a dangerous precedent.

"If Congress can create new types of members, non-state members, they could give Puerto Rico ten districts," Turley says. "They could give military installations votes."

So a legal battle is likely, Assuras reports, but voting rights proponents believe their battle is almost won.
By Thalia Assuras
  • Thalia Assuras

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