With an expanded Democratic majority in Congress, Democrats are pushing to get the District of Columbia a vote in the House of Representatives, instead of the nonvoting delegate that the District has, like Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. They have one powerful Republican ally, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, former chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He's introducing the bill in the Senate along with Joe Lieberman.
Now Senator Hatch is a great constitutionalist. On his official website he writes
Adhering strictly to the Constitution and the system of government our Founders outlined is the best guarantee of the freedoms we cherish as Americans. We need legislators, judges, and citizens who understand the view of the Constitution envisioned by our Founding Fathers. . . .
Our Constitution is an inspired document that has preserved the unity of our nation, protected the rights of its citizens, and made America a beacon of freedom and prosperity for the world. I consider my pledge to defend the Constitution, and all that it stands for, to be among my most sacred duties.
But that poses a bit of a problem for his position on D.C. voting rights in Congress. Article I, Section 2, of the Constitution begins, “The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states.” The District of Columbia is not a state, and so it is not eligible to elect a member of the House of Representatives. Some constitutional issues are complicated. This one is not. States are represented in the House, and the District is not a state.
So why is Sen. Hatch (R-Utah) willing to ignore the clear language of the Constitution in order to give the District of Columbia a vote in the House of Representatives? Because he's made a political deal that would also give Utah another seat in Congress. That way, you see, the Democrats get another vote from the District, and the Republicans would likely pick up a new Utah seat. The excuse for this deal is that Utah narrowly lost a fourth seat in the 2000 redistricting, arguably because the Census Bureau excludes overseas missionaries from a state's apportionment count. Utah produces lots of Mormon missionaries. So Congress would increase the number of seats in the House to 437, with the additional seats temporarily assigned to D.C. and Utah.
So this bill is blatantly unconstitutional. And what is Senator Hatch (along with Sen. Robert Bennett and the rest of the Utah delegation, except for new Rep. Jason Chaffetz) getting for this corrupt bargain? Another vote in the House of Representatives for two years. The bill would allow Utah and D.C. to elect representatives to the 112th Congress in November 2010. But Utah's population growth almost certainly will result in its getting a fourth seat in the 2010 census anyway, so in the regular order of things it would have four seats in the 113th Congress elected in 2012. That means that all this whistling past the Constitution on the part of Utah's members of Congress is to get one more vote for two years. Meanwhile, of course, the unconstitutional vote for the District of Columbia would be permanent.
It reminds me of the wonderful line from A Man for All Seasons when Sir Thomas More, thinking his friend Richard Rich has sold out his honor for very little, asks him (alluding to Matthew 16:26): "It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Wales?"
Senator Hatch and the state of Utah would trade the Constitution for one vote out of 437 for two years.