WASHINGTON, DC - House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor today in support of the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Mr. Chairman, this important legislation - the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act - is designed to do one thing: enfranchise the more than 500,000 citizens of the District of Columbia. It is absolutely unconscionable that District residents do not have representation in this House.
"Since 1801, when Washington, DC, became this nation's capital, the citizens of the District of Columbia have not had representation in the Congress. Not in the House of Representatives, and not in the Senate. That is simply wrong.
"It is wrong as a matter of principle - because District citizens pay federal taxes, sit on juries and serve in our armed forces like all other Americans who enjoy full representation in this body do. It is wrong politically - because District citizens since 1801 have effectively been a ward of Congress, without the opportunity to make their voice felt on legislation that affects only them. And it is wrong morally - because the United States professes to have the truest form of representative government in human history and yet deprives the citizens of its very own capital a voice in the national legislature.
"Let me add, the United States is the only representative democracy that does not afford the citizens of its capital voting representation - making this not only a national disgrace, but an international embarrassment. We are fighting to ensure that the citizens of Baghdad have a full vote in a democratic system, while we are denying this same right to U.S. citizens who live in the District of Columbia.
"The absence of representation in Congress for District citizens underscores the failure of the Congress to use the authority vested in it by the Constitution to correct this injustice. The authority I refer to, of course, is Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, the so-called 'seat of government clause' under which 'the Congress shall have power … to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever' over the District of Columbia.
"Plain and simple, this sweeping language gives Congress 'extraordinary and plenary' power over our nation's capitol city, including the authority to adopt legislation to enfranchise the District's 550,000 residents with a full vote in the House of Representatives.
"I am far from alone in my view of Article 1, Section 8. Twenty-five legal scholars from law schools all over the United States agree that establishing a House seat for the District through statute is constitutional.
"And no less a figure than Kenneth Starr, the former conservative jurist and current dean of Pepperdine Law School, has concluded that Congress has the authority under Article 1, Section 8 to do this. Mr. Starr's tightly-reasoned testimony before the House Government Reform Committee in 2004 in favor of the substance of today's measure should be required reading for every member of this body who either opposes or remains undecided about H.R. 1433.
"That Congress has for two centuries failed to use its authority to correct an injustice is no reason to persist in that failure today. This institution exists, after all, to eliminate injustice and to make our nation 'a more perfect union.'
"We, the members of this House, must never be seduced into thinking there is such a thing as a 'settled injustice,' within our authority but beyond our duty to correct. For an injustice planted two centuries ago is just as harmful to what America aspires to be today as one planted last year or last week.
"As Frederick Douglass, who spent his final years just a few blocks from where I stand said, 'Man's greatness consists in his ability to do and the proper application of his powers to things needed to be done.'"