Senate Democrats

Senate Democrats Working for D.C. Residents

Today the Senate voted against moving forward on a critical civil rights bill that sought to give the citizens of the District of Columbia the right to a voting representative in the US House of Representatives. However, the Senate today did vote to reauthorize a program that gives thousands of District of Columbia students fair access to higher education. Both measures represent the strong commitment Senate Democrats have made in enhancing the civil rights of District residents.

Senate Democrats fought to give D.C. resident a vote in Congress:

The U.S. Is the Only Democratic Nation that Deprives the Residents of Its Capital Voting Representation. The United States is the only democratic nation that deprives the residents of its capital city of voting representation in the national legislature. American citizens resident in the District of Columbia are represented in Congress only by a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives. These residents pay federal income taxes, are subject to any military draft, and are required to obey Congress’s laws, but they have no say in the enactment of those laws. [Congressional Authority to Extend Voting Representation to Citizens of the District of Columbia: The Constitutionality of H.R. 1905]

Citizens of the District of Columbia Serve In Iraq and Afghanistan Without Representation. As of September 8, 2007, 2,813 citizens of the District of Columbia have served or currently serve in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of that total, 2110 soldiers are Active Duty and 703 are in the Reserve. Citizens of the District would also be subject to a military draft, should one be enacted, without having a member in Congress to vote on authorizing one. [Analysis of Department of Defense; Congressional Authority to Extend Voting Representation to Citizens of the District of Columbia: The Constitutionality of H.R. 1905]

Congress Already Treats the District of Columbia as a ‘State’ In Other Contexts.  Opponents of the measure, argue that Article I, §2 Constitution precludes granting D.C. voting representation through legislation and that the only constitutional means is through a constitutional amendment or statehood. Supporters of the measure, including dozens of the country’s most respected constitutional scholars, believe that Congress’s authority over D.C., via Article I, §8, “the District Clause,” permit it to grant DC virtual statehood for the purposes of congressional representation.  Congress has already passed legislation (the Judiciary Act of 1789, amended in 1940) granting D.C. virtual statehood for the purposes of diversity jurisdiction.  D.C. is also considered a state for other purposes, including, most recently, for Second Amendment purposes.  Supporters further point to the Uniform and Overseas Citizens Absentees Voting Act as an example of Congress’s authority to grant voting rights to citizens who are not residents of a state.  [Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Democracy Begins at Home: Support S. 1257 “The District of Columbia Voting Rights Act; D.C. v. Tidewater Transfer Co. (1949); Parker v. District of Columbia (2007)]

Congress Has Broad Authority Over the District of Columbia. According to the American Constitution Society, the “District Clause” of the Constitution (Article 1, §8, clause 17) “grants Congress broad authority to create and legislate for the protection and administration of a distinctly federal district. Congressional power is at its zenith when it legislates for the District, surpassing both the authority a state legislature has over state affairs and Congress’s authority to enact legislation affecting the fifty states.13 Although no case specifically addresses its authority to provide the District voting representation in the House, existing case law confirms the plenary nature of Congress’s power to see to the welfare of the District and its residents.” [Article 1, §8, clause 17; Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Democracy Begins at Home: Support S. 1257 “The District of Columbia Voting Rights Act; Congressional Authority to Extend Voting Representation to Citizens of the District of Columbia: The Constitutionality of H.R. 1905]

Democrats working to make college access fair for D.C students:

Senate Democrats Are Working to Provide D.C. Students Fair Access to Higher Education. The District of Columbia Tuition Assistance Grant program was authorized in 1999 to provide scholarships to District of Columbia residents who attend public colleges outside of the District of Columbia, private post-secondary institutions in the District of Columbia, Maryland, or Virginia, or any historically black college or university. Students who attend public schools receive grants equal to the difference between the in-state tuition paid by residents of the state and the out-of-state tuition charged to non-resident students with an annual limit of $10,000 and $50,000 aggregate. Private-school students receive a $2,500 maximum annual grant and $12,500 maximum in aggregate. “This program gives our children the opportunities enjoyed in any other state that has a state university system,” said Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. [S. 343, 2007; Democratic Policy Committee Legislative Bulletin: H.R. 1124/S. 343, the District of Columbia College Access Reauthorization Act; Washington Post, 8/24/07] 

The District of Columbia Tuition Assistance Grant Program Has Helped Nearly 10,000 Students Since Inception. District of Columbia officials said college attendance among the city’s high school graduates has increased 50 percent since the grant program began. More than 26,000 grants have been disbursed to nearly 10,000 students since it began, at a cost of about $141 million. Sixty-eight percent of recipients come from families with low or very low incomes. In addition, thirty-eight percent are the first in their family to attend college. [Washington Post, 8/24/07]

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