ABA to Congress: Restore Vote for DC, Territories
||Sunday, February 20, 2011
Puerto Rico’s hopes of winning back powers in Congress stripped by the new Republican Party leadership in the U.S. House have garnered the support of a whole bunch of lawyers.
The American Bar Association — with membership topping 400,000 — has passed a resolution calling on the U.S. House to restore voting rights in the Committee of the Whole to the delegates from Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories.
The ABA’s move was made in support of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s argument that the precedent of allowing her to vote on House matters was legally and constitutionally sound.
“The American Bar Association urges the United States House of Representatives to restore the right of D.C. citizens to have their elected congresswoman vote on proposed legislation considered by the House in Committee of the Whole,” reads the ABA resolution.
The resolution also calls on the House to restore House voting rights to the representatives from Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All six non-state representatives gained the vote when Democrats took control of the House in 2007; Republicans had similarly yanked those voting privileges in 1995.
The ABA bills itself as the largest voluntary professional association in the world. It provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.
The House Committee of the Whole expired in early January when the 112th Congress was sworn in. The House’s first order of business was the adoption of its House Rules and one of the many changes the new Republican leadership implemented was to strip D.C. and the U.S. territories of the power to vote in the Committee of the Whole — a reference to a House procedure that fast-tracks legislation by effectively turning the entire chamber into a committee.
The constitutionality of this rule was confirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in a 1994 decision.
Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and the other territorial delegates joined Norton in blasting the GOP move.
Pierluisi and four of the other delegates are Democrats, while one, from the Northern Marianas Islands, is an independent.
Pierluisi has noted that as resident commissioner from Puerto Rico, he represents nearly four million U.S. citizens, far more than any other member of the U.S. House. Together, the delegates from the other U.S. territories and the District of Columbia represent over one million people.
Pierluisi echoed the arguments of other delegates that the Republicans’ action has adverse practical consequences as well, arguing the limited vote promoted responsible and transparent government — and the decision to eliminate it undermines these values.
“By compelling us to take public stands on important issues, our vote enabled our constituents to better evaluate both our governing philosophy and the quality of our representation. I believe that Republicans, like Democrats, genuinely seek to make government more open and more accountable to the people. That is why I am hard-pressed to understand why they have taken a step that does precisely the opposite,” Pierluisi wrote in an op-ed piece published by the Hill, a congressional news outlet, under the headline “A sad and shameful way to begin the 112th Congress.”
“The Republican rules package dishonors and demeans Americans living in the territories and the District of Columbia. It says to them: your voice does not matter. You are not important. And you do not count,” he said. “What a sad and shameful way to begin the 112th Congress.”