More on Unconstitutional D.C. Voting Rights Bill

The Washington Post has more coverage and commentary on the unconstitutional D.C. voting rights bill, which would give the District a Congressman even though the Constitution says that only states are entitled to Congressmen and Senators.

(There are lawyers who say that the Constitution does not really mean what it says, but they were all paid to say that by supporters of the bill).

Even putting aside constitutional objections, the fairness of giving the District a house seat is debatable. Washington, D.C. has a smaller population than the typical House district. Its half-million citizens are far less numerous than Montana, whose 900,000 residents enjoy only one House seat. (D.C. also has fewer voters than all 50 states, and fewer residents than 49 of the 50 states).

Moreover, Washington, D.C. is already overrepresented in the Electoral College, where it has 0.6 percent of the votes, despite having less than 0.2 percent of the nation’s population.

So it’s not as if Washington, D.C. residents are voiceless in the national political arena. Indeed, since they are within spitting distance of Capitol Hill, they can more easily approach Congressmen with their concerns than many non-D.C. residents can.

For those of us who live or work in the District, there is one tempting aspect of giving D.C. a seat: patronage. Representation in Congress would make it a little harder for Senators like Robert Byrd to shift federal agency offices from the District to their home states, since a District representative would presumably fight such moves.

But doing so would also set a dangerous precedent. If D.C. can be treated just like a state for purposes of a seat in the House, it presumably also can be treated like a state in the Senate. That would mean it would get two senators, just as many as California and Texas, which have 60 and 40 times as many people, respectively. That would be fundamentally unfair preferential treatment. (It is unfair that little states like Delaware get the same number of Senators as big states like California and Texas, but that, alas, cannot be changed; the constitution itself expressly bans any attempt to amend it to deprive less populous states of their right to two senators each. No such constitutional provision, however, requires that this unfair preference enjoyed by small states be extended to the District, though).

It would also set a bad precedent for D.C. statehood. D.C. already enjoys more local autonomy in regulating business than most cities do, since Congress is much less likely to block stupid municipal regulations in the District than most state legislatures are to preempt stupid regulations adopted by cities in their state. Cities need supervision by a state government in their back yard to be kept from regulating themselves to death.

For example, state legislatures commonly use preemption to prevent cities from adopting kooky “anti-discrimination” laws that ban employers from considering characteristics like felony convictions in hiring, or other job-related characteristics, but Congress seems to have done nothing to stop the D.C. Council from passing a kooky ordinance introduced by ex-con Marion Barry to bar “discrimination” against felons.

And many state legislatures have banned or restricted rent control, which discourages new housing construction and causes housing shortages, but Congress has let the District engage in rent control.

In Virginia, the state’s Dillon Rule, which prevents cities and counties from passing regulations of their own without state permission, has been a huge boon to Virginia’s economy, and has kept Arlington and Alexandria from engaging in destructive self-regulation. As a result, businesses and trade associations are constantly migrating from the District to Arlington and Alexandria, which have less regulation and litigation than the District.

Right now, Congress theoretically needs to approve the ordinances the District enacts before they become law, although it only seldom blocks those ordinances. The mere possibility that Congress will block D.C. ordinances, though, sometimes leads to the D.C. Council softening its legislation, or making it less kooky or extreme.

If the District becomes a state, the D.C. Council won’t have to be even that reasonable. They will have no restraining influence at all. They will effectively have no state government supervising them, since the District itself will comprise an entire state.

Nor will Congress have as much ability to restrain their extremism that the District does. If the District is a state, Congress won’t be able to simply block D.C. regulations from becoming law, as it can now. Instead, it will have to affirmatively overturn them, and any attempt to overturn those measures will have to pass both full houses of Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate), and do so by a two-thirds vote in each House to override any potential veto.