WASHINGTON — A lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of D.C. residents in a new bid to put legal pressure on Congress to give the District of Columbia full voting rights and representation on Capitol Hill.
As millions of Americans head to the polls on Tuesday, advocates pointed out that District residents are still not able to cast votes for both a Senator and member of the House of Representatives.
“This lawsuit says that it’s not just unfair and un-American, but it’s unconstitutional that people who live in the District of Columbia do not have the vote,” said Walter Smith, executive director of the DC Appleseed Center for Law & Justice. “It’s time to fix that.”
The lawsuit was filed by DC Appleseed and 11 D.C. residents in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and seeks voting rights in both chambers of Congress.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the District’s non-voting representative on Capitol Hill, joined U.S. Attorney General Karl Racine in supporting the new legal action at a news conference.
“With record early voting already in progress, no Americans are more ready for a change than D.C. residents, who pay the highest federal taxes per-capita and have no representation in Congress,” she said, noting she hopes the suit, along with a pending D.C. statehood bill and other legislation, will keep the heat on lawmakers.
Racine said it is “high time” that D.C. gets a vote in Congress.
Smith said he is optimistic the suit will raise the profile of the issue of D.C. voting rights, as the country votes in the mid-term elections. D.C. advocates also hope it gets the attention of Congress before new lawmakers are sworn in.
“Congress has always had, and has today, the authority to fix this,” Smith said.
The suit argues that the District’s inability to vote in Congress is unconstitutional on several grounds, which violate the equal protection clause, the due process clause and the 1st Amendment.
In the case of equal protection, the suit points out that Americans who live overseas are allowed to vote for members of the House and Senate.
“Continuing to deny that right to American citizens living in the District results in District citizens being treated unequally – both relative to other Americans required to abide by the same Congressional enactments, and also relative to Congress’s treatment of citizens and living overseas and in federal enclaves,” the suit states.
The suit seeks a declaratory judgment to give the plaintiffs, along with all D.C. residents, a right to vote in future elections for members of the House and Senate.
A previous legal effort related to D.C. voting rights ended in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that D.C. residents do not have a constitutional right to vote for members of Congress.
The high court affirmed a federal panel’s decision, which noted that D.C. taxpayers are not residents of a state, so they don’t have a constitutional right to the election of representatives.