Congress Tees up Vote To Overturn Washington, D.C. Bills, but How?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the U.S. House of Representatives will begin considering GOP-led resolutions, which would overturn two bills passed by the Washington, D.C. city council, as interference with the district’s policies emerges as a priority of the new Republican House majority. The first council bill at hand, the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2022, allows noncitizen residents to vote in local elections. The second, the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022, revises the city’s criminal code, which has not been updated since the early 1900s. 

The House will vote today on House Joint Resolution 24 to overturn the district’s noncitizen voting bill, introduced by Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), and House Joint Resolution 26 to overturn the criminal code reform, introduced by Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.). Clyde is a House Freedom Caucus member who casts himself as the nemesis to Washington, D.C. autonomy. Additionally, there are several other parallel proposals introduced by Reps. August Pfluger (R-Texas) and Chip Roy (R-Texas), as well as Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), J. D. Vance (R-Ohio), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and more in the U.S. Senate.

In 1973, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, which allowed the region’s residents to elect a mayor and city council for the first time. Previously, the federal district tried out a range of different governing schemes, even splitting the area between Maryland and Virginia, while residents continually pushed for self-governance. The Home Rule Act maintained some limitations on the types of laws the council could enact. Additionally, it granted Congress the power to review all legislation passed by the council. 

“Local D.C. laws are matters for the duly-elected D.C. Council and mayor, not members of Congress representing far-away districts like Rep. Comer’s in Kentucky and Sen. Cotton’s state of Arkansas,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said in response to the latest proposals. Norton is a non-voting member of the U.S. House representing the district, though residents have no equivalent representation in the U.S. Senate.

Additionally, Washington, D.C. residents only gained the right to vote for president and vice president in 1963 after the ratification of the 23rd Amendment — even though the president appoints the city’s local judges from a pool of nominees selected by a commission. The office of the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, another appointed position subject to Senate approval, oversees a large portion of the day-to-day prosecutions in the district. This stands in stark contrast to other cities, where most local prosecutors are elected by the people they impact.

“The disenfranchisement of Washingtonians is one of the most glaring civil rights and voting rights issues of our time,” Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) wrote for Democracy Docket in April 2021, also noting the irony of taxation without representation. “Of course, like many civil and voting rights issues, D.C. statehood is also a racial justice issue.” With upwards of 670,000 residents, Washington, D.C. has a larger population than both Vermont and Wyoming. If admitted as a state, the district would have the highest proportion of Black residents, making the region’s continued disenfranchisement even more insidious.

Comer, Clyde and company not only want to overturn bills passed by Washington, D.C.’s elected officials, but they also remain the strongest opponents to statehood. On the Senate side, Cotton once compared Wyoming — in his words a “well-rounded working-class state” — to Washington, D.C., strongly implying that Wyoming residents are more deserving of statehood than residents of the nation’s capital. 

If passed this week, the House Republicans’ resolutions would head to the Democratic-controlled Senate. The resolutions would only prevent the council’s acts from going into effect if approved by the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden. Consequently, these two proposals are unlikely to impact the district’s current laws, but the performance itself speaks volumes about the GOP’s priorities. These Republican lawmakers will gain airtime for their misleading statements about crime and immigration, but it’s the nearly 700,000 district residents who will suffer from outdated congressional oversight and voicelessness in the federal government.

Read the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2022 here.

Read the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2021 here.

Read H.J. Res 24 here.

Read H.J. Res 26 here.

Track the status of H.J. Res 24 and H.J. Res 26.