Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ballots and Bullets

"Ballots not bullets" is a popular catchphrase to describe the ability of democracy to settle disputes that might otherwise be settled violently.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate considered the measure I described in this post, to give the District of Columbia voting representation in the House of Representatives. Republicans proposed amendments to the bill that would turn that cliche on its head, and give D.C. both ballots and bullets.

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision I described here, some have pushed for broader rights for D.C. residents to own and carry guns. The Washington Post report, to which I've linked above, describes senators' efforts to add that issue, and others, to the Senate bill.

It also points up one key difference between House and Senate rules. One of the amendments was ruled out of order in the House, because it's not germane to the bill.

The House's rules are very strict regarding attempts to combine unrelated provisions in the same bill. Here is a summary of those restrictions, provided by the House Rules Committee. The basic guideline in that "the House should only consider one subject matter at a time".

By contrast, the Senate can combine different subjects in the same bill, with very limited restrictions. Congressional procedure wonks can get more detail on page 10 of this document.

The Senate considered the question of the constitutionality of the bill. With this roll call vote, the Senate rejected a point of order to the effect that the Constitution doesn't give Congress the power to extend House representation to entities other than states. The vote was 36-62. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia was the only Democrat to join 35 Republicans in questioning its constitutionality. Byrd has long been legendary for his knowledge of Senate rules and of constitutional law. And that's not only because he's been in the Senate longer than anyone else; he had already established that reputation early in his Senate tenure.

That Senate vote is, of course, not the final word on constitutionality. Any such challenge will be considered by the judiciary, and probably ultimately by the U.S. Supreme Court.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Outstanding post.

The Republicans should run away from this one fast and decline the offer of a safe republican seat in Utah (or anywhere else for that matter) because the idea is wrong.

The District is not a state and the Congress does not have the authority to extend the rights of states to non-state entities. Should we expect voting rights for Puerto Rico and Pacific Islands next? It would not be an unreasonable stretch of logic.

The Republicans should strike the quid pro quo deal regarding Utah and let the Democrats move forward this obvious power grab.

If I were in charge, Republicans would obstain from voting and let the whole thing be moved by the Democrats. When the house of cards comes crashing down - as it will - it will be on the shoulders of the Democrats only.