by Vikram Surya Chiruvolu
November 13, 2008
A webpage humbly offered in the spirit of Thomas Payne's Common Sense and all the Founding Fathers' pamphlets.
What's the problem?
The most fundamental principle in the US Constitution is the right to the Representation of two Senators and a Rep. It is why the US Capitol Building stands as the most prominent symbol of democracy around the world, yet the very people who sweep its floors and guard its halls have no representation there, if they live in DC. By the often strained processes of politics, law, and history, despite paying full Federal taxes, DC Residents remain the last disenfranchised class in America.
Can we realize a simple, no-drama solution?
Yes, we can! This page is in no small way inspired by the election of Barack Obama to our Presidency -- he believes in innovative, down-the-middle solutions that come from the People, which display goodwill, common sense, and an aversion to drama. The country wants this too, but it really needs to see clear-headed examples of how it can work. President-Elect Obama -- a Constitutional Lawyer by training, but a doer by temperament -- has said he believes its time to just get this long-standing wrong resolved, but only if we can do it without hurting the country as a whole. The two wars, the economy, healthcare, and the green revolution, are much more complex and time-consuming, and we really ought to focus most of our nation's brainpower on those.
We agree, and we have a way.
How can we get Representation for DC Residents?
It's simple: DC Residents' votes would count as Marylanders for Congressional purposes only -- with no other change to existing DC, Maryland, or Federal governance structures whatsoever.
Note especially that this is not DC Statehood, not Retrocession, and not DC-MD Dual Citizenship -- no complex negotiations or legislation would be required, no re-engineering of government structures, no budget changes, and no turf battles.
All it would take are three carefully composed one-sentence laws being enacted simultaneously by DC, Maryland, and Federal government. In a word, teamwork! The laws are firmly within the guidelines of the US Constitution for Congress, as well as within the rights of Marylanders to enact as an amendment to the Maryland Constitution, as well as allowed by the DC Home Rule Charter.
In fact, its simplicity is the hardest part. We just have to look at this with a fresh mind, peeling away the tangled mess of rivalries, resentments, and confusions, that have built around the issue.
The solution itself just requires each American, and especially Marylanders, to make a conscientious choice: is it time we end disenfranchisement in America for once and all?
Each American, except of course those who happen to reside in DC -- remember, we have no vote in the matter in Congress. Just as in the 1860s and 1960s, whites voted for the rights of blacks when they couldn't, or in1920, when men voted to give women the vote, its up to Marylanders and the nation to give DC Residents the vote now.
We believe America's and Maryland's answer to this will be a resounding yes -- and these three simple laws could be enacted in all three bodies by overwhelming if not unanimous votes.
What exactly would be passed into law?
We'd have the following trio of one-sentence Representation for DC Residents Laws, in their respective voting bodies:
How might the change be implemented?
The changeover to Representation for DC Residents will be done in line with established Congressional, Constitutional procedure for changing representation.
For the House of Representatives reapportion, after the 2010 census, the Clerk of the House will calculate how many representatives each state gets based on population. The difference is, this time, he includes DC's population in Maryland's total. In anticipation, Maryland will have set aside one Congressional district along the boundaries of the present District of Columbia. Then, DC would conduct its election as it now does, but now also report its election result to the Maryland Board of Election so they can certify the list of Representatives it will send to Congress.
In the Senate, the Maryland legislature and DC Council would allow, from 2010 on, DC residents to vote for and run for an open Maryland US Senate seat, and these votes would be tallied into the Maryland statewide total. So DC interests in the Senate would be represented by Maryland's senators, just as those Senators currently represent residents of Annapolis, Baltimore and other Maryland cities.
Why involve Maryland at all?
DC used to be made up of the Maryland towns of Washington and Georgetown, before Maryland gave them to the US federal government in 1791; in fact, Maryland had the District within its 3rd Congressional district until 1830, though DC residents weren't allowed to vote after a certain point, between 1801 and 1805. DC is a small 68-square mile area on the southern edge of Maryland, which is 12,400 square miles -- or about 180 times smaller, and DC's population of 580,000 or so is about 10% of Maryland's population of 5.6 million. DC is bordered to the Northwest, Northeast and Southeast by Maryland. DC has population demographics similar to the areas of suburban Maryland that surround it, and geographically, culturally, historically, and economically, DC has been part of Maryland to varying degrees for its entire existence. No doubt, DC is a distinct federal city, but its relationship to Maryland is in many ways like the one between any city and the state around it.
Virginia also gave some 31 square miles of its territory in 1791 to be part of the District, the town of Alexandria. However, due in large part to the politics of slavery, Alexandrians organized their secession from DC to Virginia in the 1840s. Historians politely call this 'retrocession', but one could argue its effect on DC has been analagous to the effect the secession of the South from the Union would have had on the Union, if it had succeeded. In any case, the result today is that the people who live in what would have been the District in northern Virginia have representation through Virginia, but the descendants of the people who did not secede from the District, who now who otherwise would be part of southern Maryland, have no representation through Maryland. The Constitution requires Senators and Reps be organized and chosen by the States, and, for all these reasons, Maryland is the natural choice for the state that DC's Congressional Representation should be organized through.
What would this mean for Maryland-DC relations?
It would be a firm commitment to improve them through the development of a greater sense of responsibility, connection, and partnership, recognizing we have a special relationship marked by shared history, geography, culture, population, economics, and mutual interest in each others' well-being.
What would Representation for DC Residents be like?
First, especially for Statehood activists, we'd have to exercise patience and humility to realize the net effect is that we get the exact same representatives that residents of every other US city enjoy, within the Constitutional structure already established for representation, but we'd likely still keep the extra 2 votes in the Electoral College from the 23rd amendment unless someone wants to go to the trouble of repealing it, which is unlikely.
Then, we just have to get used to the idea that DC residents be represented by the Maryland Senators, which is not so hard if you imagine it--DC residents would be represented in Congress a lot like how Boston or Dallas, with two Senators and a Representative. The only difference from other cities is that the House seat is apportioned to DC by the State of Maryland, with Congressional approval. The City of DC would retain its special identity as the Federal District, with its present administration.
Most important, we just need to stop fighting for special treatment of any kind -- nobody is going for it, and it takes people's focus off the basic reality that half a million Americans on US soil have no representation in Congress. We need to start fighting to be like everyone else under the Constitution -- two Senators from a state, and a Congressperson from our district.
Why would Marylanders support this?
They have long advocated full franchise and equal rights for all Americans. For the years from 1791 when Maryland ceded DC lands, until an 1805 Supreme court ruling, Maryland actually already did allow DC Residents to vote in its Congressional elections. Uriah Forrest, a Georgetown resident, was chosen to represent Maryland's Third District in Congress in 1793-94, and later he served as Clerk of the House 1801-1805.
Now, we the disenfranchised residents of DC are asking Marylanders for the service and sacrifice of sharing some of the time and attention of their Senators with us, so we can have a voice.
If free-Staters (Marylanders) have any adversity from it, it will be minimal compared to the serious harm done their neighbors in DC and the fabric of the nation by continued lack of Representation -- and Marylanders must also know on some level that a vibrant, strong DC will deliver far greater benefits to Maryland and the nation than Marylanders could get by leaving the status quo.
Yet the cynic might say: it really could be a lot more work for the Maryland Senators to represent DC, so we wouldn't be represented as nearly well. The reality is, the work of the Senate is such that two Senators can also represent areas with three and five times as many towns and overall population as Maryland, like New York and California. In this case, we'd be adding one city, which has about 10% of the population of State of Maryland.
Then the cynic says: DC's something of a special city because it is not part of Maryland and has its own distinct interests. Also true -- this would require increased cooperation and strengthened bonds between Maryland and DC Residents to work, and that's just exactly what we're asking for -- goodwill, partnership and connection with Maryland in Federal representation.
Then the cynic says: No -- Marylanders should think in terms of protecting their narrow self-interest at the expense of the rights of others.
We believe that has never been what Free-Staters aare about, and won't be now.
What might be the future impact of Representation for DC Residents?
Once implemented, a tradition that could be established would have the DC Representative in the House and one of the Maryland Senators serve as standing Co-chairs of their respective DC Oversight Subcommittees, to institutionalize local accountability on the Congressional level. With faith that our representative democracy will work, as DC is increasingly strong and better-governed from within and not meddled with from without, these Committees would evolve into having increasingly hands-off approaches, out of the same respect for local autonomy that tempers Congress from meddling in local affairs in the rest of the nation. However, in DC's case, Congress would retain the right to intervene in any circumstance the country really requires, likely only when the interests of the Federal government need to be served or where DC would need Federal authority to carry out its business.
What harm has come from lack of Representation for DC Residents in the past?
DC Resident's lack of Representation has left Congress to feel free (and even at times obliged) to experiment with DC policies, to the disregard and detriment of its residents. One oft-cited example, is that needle exchange programs to reduce HIV transmission were shut down. This is just one of hundreds of harmful Congressional interventions into business that everywhere else is handled at the city and state level, interventions which otherwise would never have happened if DC Residents had representation on par with every other American. In many cases, it's been a life-and-death matter. David Schwartzman's piece on Statehood and Human Rights as well the DC Statehood Greens defense of statehood have lots of great detail on this.
Payne wrote in Common Sense,
There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of [unrepresentative government]; it first excludes [the ruler] from the means of information, yet empowers [it] to act in cases where the highest judgment is required.In Payne's case, the unrepresentative government was the monarchy, and the ruler was the King. In ours, it's a Congress without peers who is charged with representing the residents of DC -- it doesn't have the information that only comes through the advocacy of duly elected and empowered Representatives who are equal peers in its ranks.
We honor and heal America by redressing this history of wrong toward the residents of its capital.
How does this solution relate to other proposed solutions?
How is this legal?
When compared to all the other options, the Representation for DC Residents Act is the most within the spirit and letter of the law, with the least additional complexity.
In the US Constitution:
By DC Charter, its City Council may direct the DC Board of Elections to carry out specific functions.
Why not DC Statehood?This is the longest-advocated and best-known of the limited, partisan set of options we've had, and many great people have a lot invested in the idea. Now I personally am definitely not opposed to city-statehood -- I just don't think the compelling, clear case is here for it yet. However, unlike me, polls have regularly shown most of the rest of the country is strongly against DC Statehood.
In fact, I count myself as a member of the DC Statehood Greens and DC Dems, and believe wholeheartedly in the cause of full franchise -- and every single Statehood advocate I know deeply has their heart in the right place. However, I've only met Statehood advocates from DC -- there aren't many around the country. You'd think there would be with this being such a major civil rights issue. But there's a deep intuition that people around the country have that Statehood, while great for DC, might not be good for the country, and this is reflected in the national polls.
However, there is an important Constitutional case for why it shouldn't get statehood, which I think has some merit.
DC Statehood would create the nation's only city-state, and that too in the nation's capital -- a city-state which would then be the nation's 50th most populous state (with Wyoming 51st) and 51st by land area (by a factor of more than 20 times smaller than the 50th, Rhode Island), along with the 3 Presidential Electoral College votes DC won in the 23rd Amendement. This is a whole lot of power I agree City-Statehood could be just great for the residents of the District for a time -- but I genuinely fear it could be too great. I also think it could be
A flood of money and power would come in, and alter the balance of power between the nation's capital city-state and the remaining states in unpredictable ways, and that could be deeply challenging to the constitution of the nation, with a lowercase-C. Though DC Residents are now disenfranchised, Washington is already an extremely powerful city, and it would become markedly moreso with Statehood. My intuition is the Founders would have us guard against such an imbalance, and the rest of the country senses it too.
Furthermore, we just haven't thought through whether this new city-state should serve as a model for others, should New York City or Chicago seek admission to the Union, and the resulting complexities of having two essentially different types of states within the United States -- one landed and one urban. I do think it's possible there could evolve a really good case for city-states if the method of Representation for DC Residents proposed here proves to have some serious gaps that city-statehood would likely resolve.
Around the world, residents of federal capital districts are also partially controlled by national legislatures, but function well -- so long as their people are fairly represented as peers in the government. While DC is under more control than the States, all of us have to comply with acts of Congress and consent to be ruled in that way for the privilege of participation in the Union, and we do enjoy significant benefits the States do not. That said, I do of course want the same level local autonomy just like other American cities have, and believe it is a likely future the District, and that we'll have the mechanism to redress it through Representation if not.
If that redress is required, we'd have to deal with the fact that, though it's not specifically written into the Constitution, it is part of our national constitution that we have only admitted larger, landed, states to the Union, never a city-state, and grapple with this directly in collaboration with the other States of the Union.
What about redress of DC residents' grievances about Congressional mismanagement of the district in the past?
The historical record shows there surely has been a colonial and racist mentality in Congress toward DC over the past two centuries, and that it has been very bad for the city's residents -- though this has been on the wane since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the approval of the DC Home Rule Charter in 1973. Still wounds are there, but they heal best when exposed, set right, and everyone can move forward positively, remembering the past but not resenting it. We will have our chance to set things right through our Representation like every other citizen, to push Congress for changes toward greater local autonomy.
How can No Representation really be the state of affairs in the USA in 2008?
Ugh. It's really complicated, confusing, and dramatic. So here's the short take: the Founders created the District as part of the Constitution in 1790 at a time when they were just trying to constitute and hold together the nation, a time when most people couldn't actually vote, and they just couldn't think it all the way through, so they gave Congress broad powers to try do the right thing over time. Maryland and Virginia ceded DC property to the Federal government in 1791, and Maryland actually continued to allow DC Residents to vote in its Congressional elections -- until a Supreme Court ruling in 1805 which said DC residents were no longer Maryland or Virginia citizens for purposes of law enforcement.
At that point, Congress could have voted to give DC Residents this specific right to vote for Congress within their respective original states. But they didn't, and they also did not put any mechanism for local elections. At the time, the disenfranchisement of a few farmers was too small a concern for a large nation with lots of growing pains to go through. By that point, DC was its own separate entity culturally from Maryland, and everything that has been proposed to resolve this lack of Representation in the last 100 years has drawn people into various interesting, but ultimately ineffectual divisions -- often seemingly with the intent to fight for something rather than agree on anything -- so the problem has just never been redressed.
Many web authors have written that in 1801 Congress severed the bond between Maryland and DC residents, but it actually did the opposite -- the initial act of Congress governing DC left all the laws of Maryland intact and just set up courts to administer them legally. John Adams was in a hurry to get it done as it was being signed into law five days before Jefferson was to be inaugurated. So the law was murky on whether DC residents had a vote for Congress -- they were governed by the law of Maryland and Virginia on one hand, but the courts of DC on the other, and had nothing specific granted or denied with regard to voting. It seems even after the 1801 Act in which Congress took power over DC, Washington residents could perhaps vote in Maryland as the Maryland 3rd District lines included DC until the 1830 redrawing. Uriah Forrest was a DC resident chosen by Maryland to be a Representative in the 3rd Congress, and was also the Clerk of the House from 1801-1805.
However, the 1805 Lamar v. Reilly Supreme Court ruling, which declared that under the law at that time, residents of DC did not enjoy the right of Maryland citizens to be protected from insolvency lawsuit. This was interpreted to mean DC Residents could no longer vote for Congress in Maryland either. In any case, it would've been up to Congress and Jefferson after 1801 to establish a mechanism for elections in DC, but neither did. DC Residents have been denied franchise in Congress ever since, despite many attempts to lobby, legislate and litigate.
What are the relevant laws?
Since there are three laws that are proposed to go into effect, we have to consider Constitutionality in all three cases. The key relevant clauses are:
What's the case history of this issue?
Basically, for two centuries, the same result: no judge has been willing to "legislate from the bench" to grant much of anything to DC residents, because of the clarity of the Constitution that ''Congress shall have power to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever''. Jeffrey Thomas Dodd's Law and Society Review at UCSB article entitled Curing Disenfranchisement in DC (pdf) covers many of the cases, as does Eli Zigas in The Courts Won't Grant DC the Vote (pdf).
Where can I find out more?
I am a friend to anyone who seeks positive change on this issue, whatever your viewpoint, and will link to anyone who asks to be mentioned here. Here are great resources, broken down by topic.
We must fill up our heart with hope and know we can be the change, so we band together and begin.
I just put up this page and emailed a close group of friends about it on November 13, 2008. Some things we can specifically do:
- excercise our rights to free speech and assembly, and plan some meetings to bond a core group of supporters < done
- give the effort a name and structure, DCRepresent.org is presently available and I feel could be a good name and online home < done
- create a plan to raise funds and draw in supporters, including forming a PAC and/or 501c3 to advance this < in progress
- get lawyers, lobbyists, legislators and public officials to weigh in with feedback < in progress
- put together a campaign strategy of approaching local stakeholders, media, and the nation at large < in progress
- ideally, coordinate a short meeting at the White House with every key stakeholder -- DC Mayor, DC City Council Chair, MD governor, MD legislature speakers of the House, MD Senators, and a representative of the Congressional Republican and Democratic caucuses, and of course the President -- to ensure everyone is on the same page in support of the plan, and to commit to just getting it done
Please, whatever you do -- don't ignore our best chance in a generation to get Representation.
What could happen if we really succeed?
The President-Elect could use this to serve as an early example of how we can go about solving those bigger problems also previously thought intractable -- in his first year, he could ask that these three votes be taken on the same morning in the DC City Council, the Maryland legislature and both houses of Congress, and then signed into law in a White House ceremony by the Mayor of DC, the Governor of Maryland, and the new President, perhaps that same afternoon. The new administration could proudly say it listened to the NetRoots and closed one of the last big lingering wounds of the racism and resolved the last unfinished business of firmly establishing federalism in America -- that we started the work close to home, by cleaning house. And, we DC Residents can celebrate that day each year going forward as the end of two centuries of disenfranchisement!
Payne wrote Common Sense as a small pamphlet in plain language, styled as a sermon with Biblical quotes, which successfully communicated to people of his day, mostly farmers. For you, I've created a FAQ webpage with links to the supporting information. Let me know if this succeeds in speaking to you.
Special thanks to my wonderful teachers--Mrs. Mary O'Brien, Mrs. Thompson, and Miss Carol Lange of TJHSST--who first inspired in me the faith that any concerned, informed citizen could and should think, write, and contribute this way on behalf of our great country.