Taxation Without Representation
Revolutionary struggles still an issue for D.C. residents
By Jonathan O. Hirsch, CMC ’12
In early April, resident assistants and residence hall staff provided Claremont students with United States Census forms asking for demographic information and living arrangements. By April 15, you (or your parents) submitted your income tax returns. We all probably also saw television, print and online ads encouraging us to fill out the forms – and stunts from politicians from both sides of the aisle expressing their well-intentioned hopes for the results. In reality, the Census is used to apportion representation in the House of Representatives, as well to disburse some of those income taxes. Like all of us in Claremont, residents of Washington, D.C. submitted both forms; unlike ours, however, D.C.’s answers will have no effect on apportionment. Why? Because D.C. has no Congressional representation.
D.C.’s lack of representation is an injustice written into our Constitution. Article I Section 3 states that “representatives… shall be apportioned among the several States” but makes no provision for representation of the “District… as may… become the seat of the government of the United States.” The Founders did not intend for Congressional representation of D.C. because they did not envision the capital to become today’s bustling metropolis home to hundreds of thousands of citizens. Instead, they assumed that most occupants would vote in their home states and travel to the capital strictly for official business.
D.C. voting advocates have tried several methods to gain representation. D.C.’s license plates cry out the famous phrase from the American Revolution, “taxation without representation,” and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting delegate to the House promotes her cause anywhere from C-SPAN to The Daily Show. Since Democrats assumed the majority, Congress has made annual efforts to give D.C. a vote in the house by statute. The proposed statute would expand the House to 437 members, granting one of the two newly created seats to D.C. (under Congress’s absolute authority over all matters relating to the District) and allocating the second seat according to the standard apportionment process. While debate as to this proposal’s constitutionality ensues, the bill has consistently failed to pass; Republicans either filibuster or attach a poison pill amendment to repeal all gun legislation in D.C., thus making the bill unpalatable to Democrats and D.C. officials.
The only surefire way to correct the injustice of D.C. residents who pay taxes, serve in our military, and otherwise exercise all of the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship not having a representative in Congress is to amend the Constitution. The 23rd Amendment provides a blueprint for a D.C. Vote Amendment. By granting D.C. state representation, this amendment would result in an expansion of the Senate to 102 members and would cost at least one state some representation unless Congress separately expanded the House. Such a proposal would draw widespread support from D.C. residents. According to a recent Washington Post poll, over 80% of Washingtonians in each of the city’s four quadrants support federal representation, and a majority of citizens nationwide do as well.
Critics argue that a small city like D.C. does not deserve two Senators and that this amendment would give disproportionate power to what amounts to a municipality. While these concerns makes sense, nobody suggests that Wyoming, whose population is even less, should lose its representation for being “too small.” Furthermore, the bicameral nature of our legislative branch assumes that some states will have disproportionate impact in one but not both houses. Given its size, D.C. could never amass significant representation in the House. While others argue that D.C. should simply become a state, this is highly unfeasible; a D.C. “state government” could never have truly sovereignty in a jurisdiction overwhelmed by the Federal Government. Similarly, those who suggest retrocession of the District to Maryland ignore the fact that the two entities are distinct, and neither D.C. nor Maryland seeks a union with the other. Making D.C. part of Maryland would prove as ludicrous as making Connecticut part of New York.
Because this issue affects only about 600,000 Americans, it does not draw the kind of attention that proposals like the Federal Marriage Amendment do. But it is a grand injustice, of the same type that invigorated the Founders, and it can only be remedied when people across the country understand it and care enough to fix it.