Norton Says Holder Went “Above and Beyond” in Deciding DC VRA Constitutionality
A Statement from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
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April 1, 2009
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WASHINGTON. D.C. - Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who has argued before the Supreme Court today said that Attorney General Eric Holder had gone to the highest source available to learn whether the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act should be defended by the Department.
The Congresswoman’s statement follows:
“Courts exercise a strong presumption in favor of the constitutionality of congressional legislation and go to great lengths to avoid finding an act of Congress unconstitutional. At the same time, the U. S. Department of Justice virtually always defends the constitutionality of acts passed by Congress and signed by the President.
However, determining whether the constitutionality of the D.C. House Voting Rights Act could be defended, Attorney General Eric Holder has gone further and has sought, in advance, the opinion of the “10th Justice,” the Solicitor General of the United States, who will have direct responsibility for defending the constitutionality of the D.C. voting rights bill before the Supreme Court.
President Bush, however, had relied on the opinion of his appointees in the Office of Legal Counsel, who have no similar responsibility, to give him the answer he desired. No one expected the Bush Office of Legal Counsel to come down on the side of the bill’s constitutionality after years of loud Republican political opposition to the bill.
Holder was confronted with divided opinion, not unusual for an unprecedented bill. Prominent Republican scholars, such as former Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Starr and Professor Viet Dinh, President George Bush’s Attorney General for Legal Policy (under Attorney General John Ashcroft), have testified that the bill is constitutional, while George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley argues strongly that the bill is unconstitutional.
Faced with these and other competing views, Holder went to the highest source, short of the Supreme Court. Other divisions of the Justice Department cannot claim greater expertise or greater objectivity on constitutional questions."