Washington does have a member of Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is an at large member, votes in committee, but is denied the same privilege on the House floor. She has pushed for the passage of the D.C. House Voting Rights Act, which would create a permanent seat for the district with all of the rights and privileges enjoyed by the body's other members. Given that the District is staunchly Democratic, the bill offers an olive branch of sorts to Republicans, creating an additional seat for bright red Utah, too. This would increase the size of Congress from 435 members to 437.
The bill has advanced out of committee in the Senate and appears to have the votes to stem a potential Republican filibuster. Given the solid Democratic majority in the House, and President Obama's past pledges of support, it may only be a matter of time until District residents change license plates.
To quote ESPN analyst Lee Corso, "Not so fast!"
Back in 1978, a similar move surfaced in the form of a constitutional amendment, but was ratified by only 16 of the requisite 38 states. As conservative columnist George Will skillfully articulates, the D.C. House Voting Rights Act, given that it is a mere statute of Congress, may be on a collision course with the Constitution, thus the earlier attempt to modify the document.
Article I, Section 2, Clause 1, reads: "The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states" (italics added). Moreover, Section 8, Clause 17, of the same Article references the creation of the "District" as the "seat of government of the United States." This distinction calls into question an attempt to bestow a member of Congress upon a piece of land that was not originally entitled to one.
To add further ammunition to this argument, the District was awarded representation in the Electoral College with the ratification of the 23rd Amendment in 1961. An excerpt from Section 1 of the amendment reads as follows: "A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of senators and representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a state, but no event more than the least populous state..." (italics added).
In sum, the D.C. Voting Rights Act confers quasi-state status upon the District without addressing clear constitutional language specifying the opposite. What is to stop Congress from adding two senators to the District, as it's population is larger than Wyoming and a handful of other states at the bottom of the Electoral College pecking order? This smacks of clear political opportunism, as the Democrats would gain at least a House seat, if not two additional senate seats in the not-too-distant future.
What about the existing compromise where ruby red Utah would also profit from this game of extraconstitutional horse trading? The census will be conducted next year, and reapportionment will follow. Utah is at the front of the line to benefit from a reallocation of the existing 435 seats.
Senator John McCain stood as the lone "no" vote in committee as the D.C. Voting Rights Act made its way to the floor for consideration next week. His explanation was simple: he considers the legislation unconstitutional. If its passage is already written on the wall, a court challenge should occupy a prominent, adjacent location.