The District of Columbia Plantation
||Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Our British friends may not know just what a sad little oddity the District of Columbia, our nation's capital, is in legal terms. As a federally chartered city that isn't part of any state, it's sui generis. It was run entirely by Congress until home rule was granted in 1973, and the fact that this mostly black city was ruled by a committee that was often in the hands of devoted segregationists (Democrats, back then) sure didn't help matters.
Now, that minatory impulse has shifted to the GOP, so every time the Republicans get hold of a house of Congress, they make sure to do something to mess with DC, just to let people know who's in charge.
As part of last Friday's budget deal, you may have read, while the "riders" on Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio and others were left out, one was included: Washington DC can no longer use its own locally raised tax revenues to fund abortion services for poor women.
Right now, 17 states have laws that allow for their own revenues (not federal revenues spent in state) to pay for abortion services. Another 32 states prohibit the use of state funds except in circumstances where the use of federal funding is permissible (life of mother, rape, incest). South Dakota allows for no state funding at all, not even for these long-agreed-upon exceptions.
Congress would never dream in a million years of trying to pass a law saying one of those 17 states couldn't do what they do. It would be blatantly unconstitutional and any court would throw it out. But they can tinker with DC all they want because the constitutional question is far less clear because of DC's odd status. The local funding had been blocked by the previous GOP majority, then won back when the D's took over, and now it's back.
So new DC mayor Vincent Gray went out and got himself arrested yesterday in front of a Senate office building. He may have had some of his own reasons for doing this, as his tenure has not been off to swimming start. More broadly, one must of course acknowledge that DC home rule over the years hasn't exactly won many good governance awards.
Still, it's all too predictable to see that once again, staring at the business end of the GOP culture-policy revolver we find poor black and Latina women, who happen to have the misfortune of living inside a city where, on top of this, they (and everyone) have no real representation in Congress.
They have no senators, of course. They do have a "non-voting" representative in the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton. But she gets jerked around when the GOP takes over too. From last December:
For the last four years, under Democratic rule, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has been able to vote on many procedural matters and amendments, even if she can't have a say on final passage. That's because Democrats gave Norton and other non-voting delegates to Congress a vote in the Committee of the Whole House, which, for parliamentary procedure reasons, is often the form in which the body acts on legislation.
Say goodbye to all that, though. New rules the GOP leadership is proposing would strip Norton's vote in that committee. (She'll still be able to vote in the three committees she sits on.)
This might be a legitimate constitutional question, but many folks can't help but wonder if the GOP would see these constitutional questions in quite the same light if Washington DC were a) more Republican and b) two-thirds white rather than non-white.