The D.C. Vote, The Constitution and Jack Kemp

Former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Jack Kemp sounds more and more like whinging Democrat every day — especially with his unwavering support for the unconstitutional D.C. Vote.

Reading the Constitution isn’t that hard (unless you’re a liberal Supreme Court justice.) Anyone can see that it says, “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.”

But Kemp wants to read it so that the term “states” is expanded to include the District of Columbia. To make his point, he resorts to arguments that make anti-vote politicians sound like racists. In statements he planned to make at the D.C. rally for the vote several days ago (which thankfully, was rained out), Kemp wrote, “Do you want to be recorded with Mr. Lincoln and Frederick Douglass or those who used the Constitution to deny freedom, property, education, and the vote to African Americans for almost 200 years?”

D.C. is not a state for good reason. To keep local pressures from influencing national politics, our capital was intended to be a city lacking political power. Thus, Kemp’s argument that anti-vote politicians are “like those who used the Constitution to declare black people as 3/5 of a human being and who used the Constitution to declare blacks are private property to be bought and sold,” is completely over the top.

He approaches the topic as if there are no other roads to “right” in this matter — when the appropriate and principled methods are just more difficult and less conducive to fast political action. His likening this to historical discriminations like “deny[ing] the vote to women, to segregate the races in schooling, housing, sports and public accommodations,” robs those authentic injustices of their rightful significance.

A voting bill, “could set a precedent for eventually giving the District two voting senators,” said a March 2007 Washington Post article. It continued, “Adding two Democrats to the 100-member Senate could alter its balance of power more than an extra seat or two would affect the House, which has 435 representatives.”

In 1978, a Constitutional Amendment which would have given statehood to D.C. failed overwhelmingly, proving nationwide opposition. Despite this failure, Democrats (and Kemp) want to bypass the Constitution with a statute.  

D.C. is a district, not a state, and the answer is cut and dry. A Constitutional Amendment is necessary if the D.C. Vote is to be given the statutes of a state. There is good reason it takes a lot to change the Constitution. If it were easy, our foundation would be like a house built on sand, shifting constantly.

Kemp’s April 17 column says his Republican counterparts in opposition to the Voting Rights Bill base their stance on “some rather shallow constitutional arguments.” This statement demonstrates Kemp’s own shallow respect for the Constitution. He wants to mold the words of this foundational document to his liking. Our Founding Fathers provided no allowance for this sort of finagling.

Kemp curiously disproved his point himself in another recent column, claiming, “I… [am not] arguing for the District of Columbia to become a state. Indeed, from the inception of our nation the founders believed the House of Representatives was the House of the people.”

But he is arguing for statehood. The Constitution has been amended in the years on another aspect of this very issue. The 23rd Amendment, which gave District residents voting rights in Presidential elections, is stated in terms of what the District would be entitled to “if it were a State…” (emphasis mine) The Constitution denotes governmental functions only states may perform, highlighting that these are not applicable to the District because it is not a state. 

If the government is going to juggle the founders intent of something so basic,  they ought to do it correctly. In a March 29 column, George Will had the right idea: “They can accomplish [voting rights] with legislation shrinking D.C. to the core containing the major federal buildings and monuments, and giving the rest back to Maryland. Democrats are uninterested in that because it would not serve their primary objective of increasing their Senate seats.”

According to one report, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.), said the D.C. Voting Rights Bill may be raised again for a vote as early as next week. Republicans like Kemp and Tom Davis (D.-Va.), who support it, should not count themselves among those who respect the Constitution. That is, among conservatives.


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