The Importance of Full Congressional Voting Representation for Residents of the District of Columbia
"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. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Black
Wesberry v. Sanders (1964)
The United States of America was founded on the principle that each person has an inalienable right to shape the laws under which they live. Sadly, that is not a right shared by the nearly 600,000 people who live in our nation's capital. Residents of Washington, DC, fulfill all of the responsibilities of citizenship shared by Americans living in states: They pay federal taxes. They serve and die protecting America's democracy in times of conflict. And they serve on federal juries to uphold laws created without their input.
In fact, DC residents pay the second highest federal income taxes in the country. Only residents of Connecticut pay more. DC residents have fought to protect America's democracy in every war since the War for Independence. In fact, more DC residents were killed in Vietnam than ten other states. Congress treats DC like a state under more than 500 laws and regulations. Ironically, none of DC's residents has a vote in the creation or passage of any of those 500 laws and regulations. In spite of their treatment of DC like a state for so many purposes, Congress continues to treat DC residents like colonists for purposes of representation in the federal government.
To make matters worse, Congress denies DC residents the right to determine even their own local affairs. Other Americans living in the states have a direct say, through their local government, over the laws that affect them locally. But residents of the District of Columbia do not have that right. Congress gives itself the power to review, judge, and approve every line of DC's budget. No other jurisdiction in the country must submit their local budget or locally passed legislation for Congressional review. Yet Congress freely and regularly overrules or restricts how locally raised revenues may be spent and whether legislation passed by DC's residents may stand.
For example, services for the needy are affected by the Congress' inability to pass the District's budget on time and by periodic restrictions placed on the use of local funds. People at-risk of HIV infection cannot be served properly by the city because Congress denies the District the ability to operate a needle-exchange program. District businesses and universities cannot seek Congressional support that is readily available to their counterparts in the states. And, too often, individual Members of Congress impose their "pet-projects" on the city against the will of local residents, costing DC money that could be spent elsewhere.
Such federal interference in local affairs would be unthinkable in any other jurisdiction in the United States and nearly impossible if the District of Columbia had full voting representation in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.