What: All Issues : Human Rights & Civil Liberties : Enfranchising the Disenfranchised/Voting Rights : S 160. (DC voting rights) Motion to declare unconstitutional a bill to give the District of Columbia full voting rights in the House of Representatives/On the motion (2009 senate Roll Call 67)
 Who: All Members : New York : Gillibrand, Kirsten
S 160. (DC voting rights) Motion to declare unconstitutional a bill to give the District of Columbia full voting rights in the House of Representatives/On the motion
senate Roll Call 67     Feb 25, 2009
Member's Vote
or not)
Progressive Position
Progressive Result
(win or loss)

This vote was on a procedural motion raised by John McCain, R-Ariz., to to declare a bill unconstitutional, thereby defeating it.  The bill in question would give the District of Columbia voting rights in the House, and Utah an extra seat in the House. 

Washington, D.C. currently has a “delegate” in the House, but she does not have full voting privileges – for instance, she can vote in committees, but not on the House floor. There is no D.C. senator.  This is because D.C. is a district, not a state, and the Constitution only grants full representation in the U.S. Congress to states. The District of Columbia and other U.S. territories such as Guam, Samoa and Puerto Rico have delegates to the House who do not have full voting privileges.

The city of Washington, D.C. – whose license plates read “no taxation without representation” – has long sought full voting rights in Congress.  But this has been a contentious and partisan topic, because giving voting rights to D.C. would, in essence, be giving Democrats an extra seat in the House. This is because the District’s  majority black population votes overwhelmingly Democratic, effectively giving the Democrats a safe seat. As an olive branch to the GOP, the bill would also expand Utah’s number of members in the House with a safe Republican seat. 

McCain said the constitution specifically states that full voting rights in Congress shall be granted to states, which the District of Columbia is not.

"The Founding Fathers considered and provided for a unique Federal city to serve as our Nation’s seat of government. No single Member would represent the interest of the District but all Members of Congress would share responsibility for the city’s well-being. I believe that when you look at distribution of tax revenues and when you look at other measurements, the District of Columbia has been well represented by all Members of Congress," McCain said.  "Again, I express my sympathy for the residents of the District of Columbia. But to now act in direct contravention to the intent and words of our Founding Fathers, I believe, is a violation of the Constitution of the United States. And to somehow work a deal that includes the State of Utah having an additional seat in return for that is an incredible violation."

Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said the argument that giving D.C. a vote would violate the Constitution is erroneous.  He said that there are many and numerous situations in which the courts have ruled that D.C. can and must be treated in the same fashion as a state, to ensure that its citizens have access to services, and are subject to the full rule of law.

"The courts have said very clearly that the District should be considered a State, notwithstanding the literal words in the Constitution. Because effectively, if you don’t, you will create an enclave where people can’t be taxed, people can’t gain access to the Federal courts, people don’t have a right to a jury trial, and people can’t be protected by generations of legislation and regulation passed pursuant to the interstate commerce clause" of the Constitution," Lieberman said.

By a vote of 36-62, the motion was rejected.  All but one Democrat present voted against the motion (Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who is a stickler for process and rules).  All but six Republicans present voted for the motion.  The end result is that the motion to declare a bill to grant Washington, D.C. full House voting rights as unconstitutional was defeated.

Issue Areas:
Key: Y=Yea, N=Nay, W=Win, L=Loss