Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Washington Wannabe

By Shawn Healy
Visitors to our nation's capital are often struck by the license plates donned by many District residents that read "No Taxation Without Representation." This slogan appeals to our revolutionary past, and raises the issue of whether the residents of Washington, D.C., are denied the very rights American colonists fought valiantly for more than two centuries ago.

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.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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