George Will

WASHINGTON -- Lincoln supposedly said: If I call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? Five? No, calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg. Which brings us to the proposal to treat the District of Columbia as if it were a state.

Today's Democratic-controlled Congress wants to give D.C., by legislation, a full voting member in the House of Representatives. Having failed to achieve ratification of a constitutional amendment, sent to the states in 1978, which would have conferred statehood on D.C. (only 16 states ratified it, 22 short of the required number), Democrats now say an amendment is unnecessary, a statute will suffice to do essentially that.

Many clauses in the Constitution leave room for conflicting interpretations. What constitutes "commerce ... among the several states," "establishment of religion," "cruel and unusual punishments"? Regarding the composition of the House of Representatives, however, the Constitution is unambiguous. Article I, Section 2 says the House shall be composed of members chosen "by the people of the several states."

Until the nation's flag has 51 stars -- at which point D.C. will have two senators -- the city should not have a full member of the House. (Today, D.C.'s "delegate" votes in committees, and on floor amendments -- as long as the vote does not change the outcome -- but not on final passage of legislation.) But those -- mostly Democrats -- who favor full House membership for D.C. cite Congress' constitutional power "to exercise exclusive legislation'' over ``the seat of the government." They say Congress can exercise its "exclusive legislation" power to nullify Article I, Section 2's requirement that House members be chosen by people "of the several states."

But that is preposterous: If Congress'"exclusive legislation" power concerning D.C. can trump one constitutional provision, it can trump any provision: Congress could establish a religion, stifle free speech or authorize unreasonable searches and seizures in D.C. And if Congress' power over D.C. allows it to award full House representation, why could it not also award two Senate seats? Today's Congress is pressing House representation for D.C. in part because of that predictable next step: D.C. would be a reliable source of two Democratic senators.

If majorities in both houses of today's Congress want the fewer than 600,000 residents of D.C. to be fully represented, they can accomplish that with legislation shrinking D.C. to the core containing the major federal buildings and monuments, and giving the rest back to Maryland. Democrats are uninterested in that because it would not serve their primary objective of increasing their Senate seats.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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