May 2000 Newsletter
by Jamin B. Raskin
Editor's Note: This article deals only with Alexander v. Daley, one of two lawsuits ruled on by the federal court in March. For an update on Adams v. Clinton, visit http://www.dccitizensfordemocracy.org.
The three-judge federal district court panel assigned to the DC voting
rights case issued its long-awaited decision on March 20, 2000. The decision is a mixed bag--disappointing in many respects, promising and hopeful in others.
We did not obtain the relief or the holdings we sought. All three judges
agreed that there was no standing to challenge the District's lack of
representation in the US Senate. Judge Oberdorfer essentially took the
position that the conflict over Senate representation had not actually been
brought to a head yet and that the criteria for standing were missing.
Thus, as to the Senate disenfranchisement claim, the court never ruled on
the merits--neither up or down.
On the question of voting representation in the US House, the panel reached
the merits and split 2-1, with US Circuit Judge Merrick Garland and US
District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruling that the Constitution
effectively contemplates and compels disenfranchisement of the District's
population. Their decision rests heavily on an inflexible and static reading
of the word "state" and a narrow, frozen view of constitutional history.
Judge Oberdorfer's magnificent dissenting opinion was the judicial
pronouncement we had all been waiting for. It begins with the three words
that infuse any progressive understanding of the American Constitution: "We the People. . . ." Rather than reading the rights of the people through a restrictive and unchanging structural paradigm as his colleagues did, Judge Oberdorfer read the structural provisions of the Constitution through the lens of democratic rights. He quoted the Court's prior determination that "No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. . . .Our Constitution leaves no room for classification of people in a way that unnecessarily abridges this right."
Judge Oberdorfer concluded that "both Article I and principles of equal
protection require this Court to declare that qualified residents of the
District have a constitutional right to vote for voting representation in
the House of Representatives" and that the Secretary of Commerce must add the District's population to the post-census reapportionment letter sent by the President to the House of Representatives stating where Americans live.
The case will now be appealed to the Supreme Court where we will build on Judge Oberdorfer's insights, respond to many of the incomplete and
misleading historical arguments made by the majority, and lay out a case for representation that will appeal both to rights-protecting liberals and
federalism-protecting conservatives. All of American constitutional thought
returns us to the original principle of consent of the governed, and we do
not think that the Court can ignore a case of first impression of such
intense public importance. We remain hopeful as we prepare our Supreme Court papers and are extremely cheered by the work of DC Vote and the
reinvigorated movement for democracy and national representation.
Jamin B. Raskin, a professor of constitutional law at American University's
Washington College of Law, is co-counsel with Covington and Burling and the D.C. Corporation Counsel in Alexander v. Daley.
POLL SHOWS 72% OF AMERICANS SUPPORT D.C. REPRESENTATION
In a joint news conference, DC Vote, Democracy Now, Stand Up for Democracy, and the League of Women Voters joined with Mark David Richards, of Bisconti Research, to present the results of his new national survey research. Richards's results, showed that a stunning 72 percent of Americans, across the demographic and political spectrum, support equal voting rights for their fellow citizens who live in the nation's capital. The Washington Post, The Washington Times, NPR, Newschannel 8, and WAMU Radio ran the story.
Representative Tom Davis's (R. Va.) April 9th editorial in the Washington
Post generated a number of responses that came our way. Although many
expressed appreciation for his interest in providing House representation,
everyone agreed that full citizenship requires full representation in
Congress including the Senate. The two cannot be separated.
OUR ISSUE IN THE NEWS: REBELLION KEEPS BREWING
As expected, the "Taxation Without Representation" license plate slogan for DC continues to make the national news. Sarah Shapiro, the DC resident who is credited with generating the idea, was interviewed on CBS weekend national news. And on the heels of the New York Times article citing a "rebellion brewing in the nation’s capital," The Dallas Morning News ran a new story saying, "It’s been centuries since patriotic colonists campaigned against the tyranny of taxation without representation." The article called the current license plate campaign "a modern day revolt in the nation's capital."
Stories about the partnership between DC Vote and SpeakOut.com appeared on NPR' s "Morning Edition," Newschannel 8, and Associated Press. DC Vote President Joe Sternlieb was featured in a live interview on Fox Morning News on July 4th.
WHO SAID THAT?
Last month we printed a statement by former Senator Howard Baker (R. Tenn). Look for the author of this quote in next month's newsletter:
"It should offend the democratic sense of this nation that the citizens of its Capital...have no voice in the Congress."
JOE RUFFIN, OUTREACH DIRECTOR
We are happy to have Joe Louis Ruffin on the DC Vote team. If you've read this far, you've seen his name and number many times, largely in connection with his significant task of organizing 50 house parties in the spring and summer months--a program that is in full swing and showing signs of great success.
Those who attended the March 11th forum, or any of our recent news
conferences, have witnessed Joe's skills as an "advance man." Joe has an
abundance of experience in that capacity. He was the Associate Director of
Communications and Events for NATO where he was responsible for coordinating summit meetings and plenary sessions. He worked on the White House Advance Team that conducted a series of "town hall" meetings across the country on the issue of Y2K.
Joe was the Director of Constituent Service for the Council of the District
of Columbia Ward One office from 1992 to 1998. He spent four years as Major League Baseball director of Reviving Baseball in the Inner City program. (RBI). He also worked for the WPP Group "MRA" where he directed ten national campaigns for Fortune 500 companies.
His favorite line, often heard echoing throughout
the DC Vote office, is, "I'm just trying to keep hope