WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, March 8, the U.S. Senate voted 81-14 to pass House Joint Resolution 26 and overturn Washington, D.C.’s Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022. The bill would have amended the district’s criminal code, which has not been updated since the early 1900s.
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.
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.
“I strongly oppose this profoundly undemocratic, paternalistic resolution. The House of Representatives, in which the nearly 700,000 District of Columbia residents have no voting representation, is attempting to nullify legislation enacted by D.C.’s local legislature, whose members are elected by D.C. residents,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said in response to the resolution. 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.
“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.
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), a House Freedom Caucus member who casts himself as the nemesis to Washington, D.C. autonomy, introduced House Joint Resolution 26. The resolution passed the U.S. House on Feb. 9 on a 250-173 vote. Last week, President Joe Biden announced he would not veto the resolution and would sign the measure if it reached his desk. If Biden does sign the resolution, it will mark the first time in over 30 years that Congress has blocked a Washington, D.C. law.