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District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, our vote today affects one of the core issues of our democracy--the right to vote. It is a fundamental American principle that every citizen should have the right to vote and to participate in our democracy. Yet the nearly 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia have no voting representative in Congress. Americans give up their right to vote for Members of Congress when they move to the Nation's Capital. It is long past time for us to finally correct this basic wrong, and I commend Senators LIEBERMAN and HATCH for their strong leadership on this legislation.

The basic injustice is clear. Already this year, District of Columbia residents have paid over $500 million in Federal taxes. Annually, they have the second highest per capita tax burden in the Nation. But they are denied the basic right of congressional representation taken for granted by other taxpaying Americans.

DC residents have fought and died to protect our Nation in every war in which America has participated since our Nation was founded. Since World War I, over 192,000 residents of the District of Columbia have served in our Armed Forces, and more than 1,600 DC residents have given their lives in service to our Nation. Since the start of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 3,000 DC residents have been deployed in those countries and dozens of DC residents have been wounded or killed. There is no reason to deny representation in Congress to these patriotic veterans.

I have long been a strong supporter of DC representation in Congress. In 1978, the District's nonvoting Delegate in the House, Walter Fauntroy, our Senate majority leader, ROBERT BYRD, and I worked with many others to pass a constitutional amendment to extend full voting rights to Americans living in the Nation's Capital. Congress passed that constitutional amendment, but too few States ratified it, and it never took effect.

Although I strongly supported that constitutional amendment, I do not believe that a constitutional amendment is the only valid option. In 1978, we were following the precedent of the 23rd amendment, which was approved by Congress in June 1960 and was ratified by the States in March 1961 and which gave citizens of the District of Columbia the right to vote in Presidential elections. At the time, there was little opposition in the House to the amendment giving the District congressional representation, and the Republican leaders in the Senate actively supported it. It passed the House by a vote of 289 to 127. The Senate passed it by a vote of 67 to 32, narrowly above the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment. Needless to say, we were deeply disappointed by the failure of the States to ratify the amendment, and that failure planted the seeds for the serious consideration now of the statutory option for achieving the goal.

As the House and Senate hearings on the current bill make abundantly clear, the Constitution's District clause provides a valid means for acting by statute to grant citizens of the District of Columbia the right to vote in the House of Representatives. In testimony on the bill, numerous constitutional scholars have explained that article I, section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the authority ``to exercise exclusive Legislation, in all Cases whatsoever, over'' the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court has ruled that Congress's exclusive authority over the District of Columbia is broad and ``national in the highest sense.'' O'Donoghue v. United States, 289 U.S. 516, 539-40, 1933.

Madam President, at this very moment as the Senate debates whether DC citizens deserve a vote in Congress, many brave Americans born in the District of Columbia are fighting for democracy in Iraq. If we are for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, we cannot oppose democracy in the District of Columbia. If we believe in the principles of ``one person, one vote'' and government by the consent of the governed on which our Nation was founded, we must support this bill.

I urge my colleagues to vote for cloture on the motion to proceed to this long overdue legislation and to support final passage of the bill so that we can finally correct this historic wrong.


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