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Government and People
Government of the District of Columbia
Petition for Redress of Grievances
We the people of the District of Columbia exercise our First Amendment right this July 4th to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.1 We file our Petition to ask the Congress and the President to redress the most fundamental of grievances: our lack of voting representation in the United States House of Representatives and in the United States Senate.
We the people of the District of Columbia are citizens of the United States, endowed with all the attendant rights and duties of American citizenship. Like all other American citizens, we are governed by the laws Congress writes; thousands of us have fought and died in the wars Congress has declared; and we pay into the Treasury billions of dollars for the taxes Congress levies. Yet, unlike all other citizens, we have no vote in the decisions Congress makes. And we are denied that right solely because our home is the Nation's Capital, the city that is a symbol of Democracy to people throughout the world.
This denial is wrong, because it is contrary to the principles of democratic consent and representative government upon which our Nation was founded. It was wrong when the vote was denied to African-Americans; it was wrong when the vote was denied to women; it was wrong when the vote was denied through poll taxes, literacy tests, property requirements and other devices that excluded citizens from equal participation in our Government; and, it is wrong now to deny voting rights in Congress to the citizens of the District of Columbia. Congress and the President, in the noble American tradition of justice for all, have redressed these wrongs in the past. They should do the same for us now. We therefore petition the Congress and the President to right the wrong that continues to be done to the citizens in the Nation's Capital.
The principles upon which we base our petition were first set out in the Declaration of Independence, 222 years ago today. There, Thomas Jefferson and the other founders of our Republic declared that Governments justly derive their powers only from the consent of the governed and that Great Britain had violated that requirement by forcing our people to relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them.2
In its first seven words, our Constitution carries forward these basic principles of our Declaration of Independence and articulates the sole source of our Government's legitimacy: We the people of the United States. . . .3 On behalf of all the people of the United States, the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution in order to secure the Blessings of Liberty to the citizens of the original states and to their Posterity. We are part of that Posterity, and we therefore claim the rights the Constitution gives us.
The Constitution guarantees Due Process to all citizens. It guarantees Equal Protection of the Laws to all citizens. It guarantees the Privileges and Immunities of citizenship to all citizens. And it guarantees a Republican Form of Government to all citizens. As Abraham Lincoln said, ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.4 We the citizens of the District of Columbia are entitled to the rights the Constitution guarantees, and we are certainly a part of the people of whom Lincoln so movingly spoke. To continue to deny us the vote is to deny us these constitutional rights and to exclude us from Lincoln's promise.
For how can ours be a Government of the people if part of the people have no voice in that Government solely because of their place of residence? How can we receive Due Process if we do not participate in the process that makes the laws we are asked to obey? How can we benefit from Equal Protection if the laws exclude us from Voting representation? How can we exercise the Privileges of citizenship if we are denied citizenship's most precious privilege the right to vote for those who govern us? And how can we enjoy a Republican form of Government if we have no voting representation in that Government? Indeed, how can our Government claim the consent or the governed when a half-million people in our Nations Capital cannot consent because they have no vote?
The answer to all these questions is that without the right to vote, our Democratic rights are debased and the Blessings of Liberty are withheld. As Susan B. Anthony said in 1873: Our democratic-republican government is based on the idea of the natural right of every individual member thereof to a voice and a vote in making and executing the laws.5 As she also said; It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, but we, the, whole people, who formed this Union.6 And as Martin Luther King, Jr., said on that historic day in 1963 when he and thousands of others gathered in our Nations Capital: When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.7 As he also said then, now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.8
For most citizens, the Supreme Court made good that promise in 1964 in its landmark one-person one-vote decision (Reynolds v. Sims). In so doing our Supreme Court declared: No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.9
To their great credit, our recent Presidents and Congresses have repeatedly acted to further this constitutional imperative of representation for all Americans. President Lyndon Johnson, placing the full weight of his presidency behind the historic Voting Rights Act in 1965, declared before a Joint Session of Congress that every American citizen must have an equal vote and that there is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.10 Twenty-five years later, on the anniversary of that Act, President George Bush proclaimed a national day of celebration, declaring that the right to vote . . . is at the heart of freedom and self-government.11 He urged all Americans to reflect upon the importance of exercising our right to vote and our determination to uphold Americas promise of equal opportunity for all.12
For its part, Congress has repeatedly responded to such calls from our Presidents and Nation to protect the right to vote. For example, in the National Voter Registration Act Congress expressly found that:
Our grievance is that these resounding pronouncements ring hollow to us this July 4th. In November, when all other American citizens cast their ballots for their Representatives and Senators in our national Legislature, our votes will not be among them. On that day, the people of America will exercise their most precious right, but we the people of the Nations Capital will be left out.
Twenty years ago, Congress recognized this grave injustice and proposed a constitutional amendment to address it. Two-thirds majorities of both Rouses of Congress passed a joint resolution declaring that District citizens are entitled to full voting representation in both Houses. Senator Thurmond, who supported the amendment, defended its adoption as follows:
Senator Dole, who also championed the bill, explained that the 1976 Republican platform had endorsed voting representation for the District in both Houses, that as the Vice-Presidential nominee he had pointed with pride to that position as an excellent expression of Republican ideals and principles, and that he supported passage of the 1978 bill.15 His reasons eloquently capture why such a bill was and is necessary:
These Senators reasoning in support of full democratic representation for the District is as compelling today as it was 20 years ago. And yet, what these Senators rightly found intolerable 20 years ago still persists today. For although two thirds of the Congress endorsed voting representation for the District in 1978, the vehicle chosen, by Congress a constitutional amendment failed to attain ratification by the required three-fourths of the States. As a result, the equal rights for D.C. citizens that a large majority or the members of Congress supported have still not been enacted into law.
However, a constitutional amendment is not required to give us those rights. Those rights are already guaranteed by the Constitution. All that Congress need do is pass a bill today recognizing that fact and giving us voting representation as intended 20 years ago. Congress should do so now, not only because it is constitutionally and morally right, but also because it speaks to the common sense of the people. The most recent poll of public opinion shows that 80 per cent of the American people believe we should have equal representation in Congress.17
For these reasons, we formally petition the Congress to pass a bill granting us by legislation full voting representation as it approved for the District in 1978. We furthermore petition the Congress to pass such a bill before it adjourns this session. And we petition the President to support and promptly sign the bill. Our Government should not let us enter the 21st century as second-class citizens.
It is time to remedy this fundamental injustice. It is time to extend democracy to the loyal and taxpaying American citizens who reside in the Nation's Capital. It is time to give us the vote.
[To be signed, also, by a number of representative citizens of the District of Columbia
Government of the District of Columbia
12.00 P.M. JULY 2, 1998
DC Petitions Congress to Restore Vote this Year
Wants full voting representation in House and Senate
Washington, DC July 2, 1998
The Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia, representing its citizens, today announced he will petition the Congress to enact legislation this year to give residents of the nation's capital full voting representation in the House and the Senate. A cross section of District residents is joining the initiative as petitioners.
The formal Petition for Redress of Grievances will be submitted to the Congress on behalf of all citizens of the nations capital by Corporation Counsel John M Ferren. An accompanying legal memorandum cites U.S. Constitutional provisions to show Congress that neither statehood for the District, nor a constitutional amendment, is necessary to grant full voting rights to the Districts residents, The petition claims, among other things:
The petition concludes that a constitutional amendment is not needed to provide voting representation for District citizens. Those rights are already guaranteed by the Constitution, said the petitioners. All that Congress need do is pass a bill today recognizing that fact and giving us voting representation as it intended 20 years ago.
The petition was prepared by Mr. Ferren and lawyers with the firm of Covington & Burling. Mr. Ferren and the Covington lawyers will also provide the Congress with a legal memorandum that shows that only a majority-passed bill in the Congress and the presidents signature are required to bring voting rights to District residents.
This power of Congress, the memorandum notes, exists under Article I known as The District Clause and Section V of the Fourteenth Amendment.18 Because District residents have a constitutional right to vote in Congressional elections; Congress has not just the power but also a constitutional duty to end their disenfranchisement the memorandum says. The memorandum points out that at the time the Constitution was adopted, residents of what became the District were full citizens of the original states of Virginia and Maryland. District residents were thus among the people who adopted the Constitution and whose democratic rights are guaranteed by it. The Supreme Court declared in 1901 that the mere cession to the federal government of the land on which these people had lived did not strip them of their constitutional rights. As full and equal American citizens, the people of the District of Columbia have a constitutional right to be represented in the Congress that governs them, the memorandum says.
Moreover, the memorandum states, Congress ultimately determines District policy in such basic local matters as teacher salaries, criminal justice, and local taxation. Although these laws apply solely to the District of Columbia, the Congress that enacts them is composed of representatives from everywhere except the District. The petitioners say this subverts the democratic principles upon which the nation was founded.
John M. Ferren, Esq.
Charles A. Miller, Esq.
1. Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment I
District of Columbia Voting Rights Act of 1998 (Introduced in the House)
HR 4208 IH
H. R. 4208
To provide for full voting representation in the Congress for the District of Columbia .
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
July 14, 1998
Ms. NORTON introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
To provide for full voting representation in the Congress for the District of Columbia .
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `District of Columbia Voting Rights Act of 1998'.
SEC. 2. REPRESENTATION IN CONGRESS FOR DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA .
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the community of American citizens who are residents of the District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall have full voting representation in the Congress.
SEC. 3. EFFECTIVE DATE.
This Act shall apply with respect to each Congress beginning on or after the date of the enactment of this Act.
For Immediate Release
Press Contact: Donna Brazile
NORTON INTRODUCES BILL FOR FULL VOTING RIGHTS IN CONGRESS
At 12:30 today as the House reconvened, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced the District of Columbia Voting Rights Act of 1998, her first bill filed after the July 4 Congressional recess. A similar bill will be introduced in the Senate shortly.
The bill responds to the Petition to Congress for Redress of Grievances dated July 4 from District citizens. The Congresswoman said: Because a petition requires a bill to carry out its requested goal, I am introducing this bill to afford my colleagues the legislative vehicle necessary to grant my constituents equal rights to full representation in the Congress. If the Congress does not respond affirmatively by the end of this session in October, the only recourse remaining to District residents will be the courts.
The bill reads simply:
In her Statement of Introduction, the Congresswoman said that since neither the Voting Rights Amendment of 1978 nor the New Columbia Admission Act of 1993 (statehood bill) became law, the District was left with no further remedies except the bill she introduced today or a lawsuit in the courts. She said: If Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 gives Congress the absolute power over the District it claims, it must use that power to grant District residents full representation in the body that exercises that power. In her statement, she said: "Using this power, the Congress has required the District to meet the responsibilities of states and to accept the obligations of states, but has denied the District the rights that the residents of the states take for granted. As the century turns, it is impossible to argue that the Constitution gives the Congress power at once to impose obligations and to deny rights.
Norton said that Congressional power to grant full representation was compelled by a combination of constitutional provisions and cases decided by the Supreme Court itself. She cited the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, the Privileges and Immunities Clause, and the guarantee of a Republican form of government. The Congresswoman said that the Court itself had held that the right to Congressional representation is a function of national citizenship and said that District citizens cannot be held to be the only citizens excluded from the one man one vote equal protection principle of Reynolds v. Sims. She compared District residents to the colonists, who were required to pay taxes by a body in which they had no representation. Norton concluded by asking her colleagues in the House and the Senate to grant, in the words of her bill, the community of American citizens who are residents of the District constituting the seat of government of the United States. . . full representation in the Congress before the 1 05th Congress adjourns sine die.
NORTON FILES BILL FOR FULL CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATION FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
July 14, 1998
MR. SPEAKER. Today, I introduce the District of Columbia Voting Rights Act of 1998, my first bill following the July 4th recess. District citizens commemorated July 4th this year by presenting a Petition to Congress for Redress of Grievances granting the citizens of the District of Columbia representation in Congress. July 4th was the date the founders of the nation and the framers of the Constitution declared their right to full voting representation before submitting to any government. The residents of the District take them at their word and insist upon the same.
Because a petition is not self-executing but requires the introduction of a bill, I have an obligation to respond to the petition by introducing a bill to carry out its request to the Congress to grant the District full voting representation. I expect the same bill to be introduced in the Senate.
District citizens, with great patience, have pursued all the remedies available to them. The Voting Rights Amendment of 1978 was passed by the Congress but was not ratified by the required three-quarters of the states. The New Columbia Admission Act of 1993 (statehood bill) garnered 60% of the Democrats, less than a majority of the House, and was carried no further than a hearing in the Senate.
Following the example set at the founding of the nation on July 4, 1776, it has become impossible for the District to let the matter rest any longer. A combination of authoritative sources now make clear that Congress cannot continue constitutionally to deny District residents representation in the national legislature, but must and can take all steps necessary to afford them full representation. The Congress has continually cited Article I, Section 8, clause 17 for the proposition that it has plenary power to do whatever is constitutionally and legally necessary to or for the District. Using this power, the Congress has required District residents to meet the responsibilities of states and to accept the obligations of states, but has denied District citizens the rights that the citizens of the states take for granted. Under the Constitution, as interpreted by the courts today, it has become impossible to argue that the Constitution gives the Congress power at once to impose obligations and to deny rights.
Fortunately, the framers of the Constitution have not left District citizens without a remedy should the Congress fail to act. That is what the courts are there for, and that is what the Constitution is there for. Therefore, today, I am introducing into the record the Petition for Redress of Grievances, which lays out the broad outlines of the constitutional framework that requires that District citizens be treated like the full American citizens they are. The courts have already decided that all Americans are entitled to equal representation in the national legislature. The Supreme Court has interpreted the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, the Privileges and Immunities Clause, and the guarantee of a Republican Form of Government to mean that no American citizen may be excluded from an equal vote in the Congress. The right to be represented in the national legislature is a function of national citizenship. U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 (1995). District citizens cannot be held to be the only citizens excluded from the one man one vote equal protection principle of Reynolds v. Sims. 377 U.S. 533 (1964). The citizens of the District of Columbia are as much entitled to the right to full representation as citizens who leave our shores, perhaps for a lifetime, but still claim the right to representation in the House and Senate, under the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act of 1975, passed by the Congress.
Thomas Jefferson spoke for the people whom I represent when in the Declaration of Independence he wrote about a long line of Abuses and Usurpations resulting from government without representation of the governed and concluded that there was a Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards. Like the colonists, District citizens pay taxes as required by a body in which they have no representation. Unlike the colonists, District citizens have recourse to a peaceful path for Redress of Grievances the Congress of the United States and, failing that, Article III courts established by the framers themselves. Therefore, I call upon my colleagues in the House and Senate to use Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 and the other relevant constitutional provisions and cases forthwith to grant, in the words of the bill I introduce today, the community of American citizens who are residents of the District constituting the seat of government of the United States . . . full voting representation in the Congress before the 105th Congress adjourns sine die.
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