Tuesday, March 20, 2007

For once, the Bush Administration is right about the Constitution

Sometimes the White House policymakers get it. Today, it said Bush will veto a bill that would give a voting House seat to D.C., with a compromise of a fourth seat for Utah, on the basis that it's unconstitutional.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution stipulates:
The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature.
Now, Article I, Section 8 says:
To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;--And
Section 2 mentions nothing about federal territories, only states, and Section 8 clearly is carved out as an area of federal jurisdiction. Some claim that Section 8, granting Congress "exclusive legislation" over federal territories, means Congress can give a vote to the District. That is completely incorrect: the clause merely refers to the fact that Congress is the exclusive source of laws for the seat of the federal government, nothing more. Because federal law is subservient to the Constitution, the latter being the Supreme Law of the Land, Congress cannot pass laws that override Article I, which plainly speaks only of the House and Senate members coming from States. If DC. residents are to have any representation in the House, it will require a Constitutional Amendment similar to the Twenty-Third Amendment. However, as a matter of practical politics, why should Congress heed this? Almost since the beginning, it's ignored the Constitution anyway.

Since D.C. is not a state, the White House is correct, and Rep. Tom Davis and Ilir Zherka are goddamn ignoramuses about what's really in the Constitution. "I hope the president's legacy isn't vetoing democracy in the District of Columbia," Davis said, and Zherka also used "democracy" in her unfounded appeal. Strangely enough, the word "democracy" never appears once in the Constitution, even in regard to the seat of the federal government. On the other hand, Article IV, Section 4, specifies that "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government." Republican form.

Davis also said, "The Senate represents states, the House represents people." No, this is only partially true, and in fact being only partially true makes it effectively completely incorrect. The Senate represents the several States' interests in the federal government, and the House represents the interests of the people of the several States.

It's critical to note that even in the highly questionable Fourteenth Amendment, "United States" means strictly the federal government, not the nation as a whole. That's why the Constitution can talk about "the United States" and "each State" in the same breath, or as in Article 1, Sections 1 and 2, the "Congress of the United States" and how the House of Representatives shall be elected by "the People of the several States." Not "the People of the United States," because those people are by definition the residents of areas under federal jurisdiction, such as the District of Columbia.

A lot of people, including those supposedly expert in the Constitution, and virtually every elected federal official and bureaucrat, don't understand that the U.S. Constitution is an agreement between the several States, not the people of the several States, despite how the Constitution's preamble begins. Pay close attention to the phrasing throughout the Constitution, and you'll see it's all about interactions between the several States and the federal government, not individual people.

This idiotic Christian Science Monitor article tries to make it look like "conservatives" support the bill as constitutional, but let's remember that both conservatives and liberals, as evidenced by court decisions for decades, are often wrong about what the Constitution really says. Despite his supposed "originalist" or "textualist" mindset, Scalia isn't infallible, for example.

Contrary to their claims, the residents of the District of Columbia do have representation in Congress: it's through the assembly of both the House and Senate, which as we've seen are made responsible by the Constitution for the District's legislation. For the same reason, whether you agree with it or not, that's why voting rights used to be limited to men. It was not to disenfranchise anyone, but because a man's vote was not just for himself, but on behalf of his household: wife, children and property, which at one point included slaves.

"Taxation without representation," or the better phrasing "For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent" that's found in the Declaration of Independence, was onerous to the colonists for reasons beyond the fact of no representation. The taxes were directed specifically at the colonists, imposed by a government thousands of miles away. They were also redistributive in nature, whether brought back to the treasury in London at the Exchequer's direction, or used directly to fund the British troops that the colonists didn't want.

On the other hand, while D.C. residents do pay federal income taxes, it's the same as the rest of us. Also, any redistribution happens in reverse: when I remember that any budget shortfalls are just about automatically covered by Congressional appropriation, I'm not crying for them.

As a final thought, are you sure you want these people to be able to elect someone to the House? Things are already bad enough without functional illiterates voting for whichever schmuck promises them the most.


Blogger Steven Tomer said...

Amen. While I want an additional seat for Utah in the House, I'm willing to wait until after the 2010 census to get it.

If we crack the (unconstitutional) door open for a seat representing Washington D.C., we may as well do the same for all of the other U.S. territories, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa.

What then would be the point of statehood? For the entire history of the U.S., there has always been a differentiation between territories and states. It can't be changed without a constitutional ammendment.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007 12:42:00 PM  

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