"Mr. President, first, I wish to thank my colleague from Nevada for bringing up this very important issue. Those of us who are strong supporters of second amendment rights clearly are looking at this issue and appreciate his leadership.
"Earlier this morning, the Senator from Arizona raised a constitutional point of order as it relates to the bill before us, S. 160. I have to admit, I kind of took a step back and said: Well, a constitutional point of order--I am not sure I am familiar with that. So we went to Riddick's, which is our encyclopedia of Senate precedents, and looked up ``constitutional point of order'' and some of the history there.
"I was surprised to find that a constitutional point of order was raised during the consideration of the Alaska statehood bill.
"I have had an opportunity on the floor, throughout this past year, to remind all my colleagues that this year is the 50th anniversary of Alaska's statehood and some of the debate that took place on the floor of the Senate and the process that we as a State took to gain statehood.
"I pulled up the Congressional Record from this debate on the constitutional point of order. It is quite interesting, quite fascinating, from Alaska's perspective, because the point of order that was being discussed was whether section 10 of the Alaska Statehood Act violated the requirement that States come into the Union on equal footing.
"The argument that was made at the time was that half of Alaska's territory would be withdrawn by the federal government, depriving the proposed State of Alaska at the time the power to have a uniform system of taxation. Alaska's experience seeking voting representation in Congress explains why I have taken such great interest in the debate over representation for the District of Columbia.
"In Alaska, it was a huge fight--a huge fight--as to whether we should become a State. My grandparents on both sides were involved in the debate at the time. It was a fight to gain control of our resources. It was a fight to determine who had control of our fish. As Alaska observes the 50th anniversary of its admission to statehood I reflect back on our fight for voting representation in Congress. This is why I believe it is so important for the people of Alaska to have voting representation in the House of Representatives.
"I appreciate the pleas of the people of the District of Columbia, the residents of this very small area, for voting representation within the Congress because it was not too long ago those same cries were being heard back in Alaska. You have to give the District of Columbia government credit for a pretty effective lobbying campaign. I do not know of any other place that has used their license plates to tell the rest of the country what it is they are asking for: no taxation without representation.
"There are significant differences between Alaska's fight for statehood and the cause of representation in the House for Washington, DC. Alaska, 50 years ago, was a territory. The District of Columbia is a different entity, a federal enclave created by our Constitution.
"Our Constitution makes it clear that they are not a State. However, I supported cloture on the motion to proceed to S. 160 yesterday because I believed it was important that we have this debate on the floor of the Senate and that we hear the perspectives being presented, whether it is from the Senator from Connecticut or the Senators from Arizona, and to allow this issue, which is so important to some 600,000 people, to be debated. I represent a State of just a little over 600,000.
"It was back in 1960, June 17, that the Congress approved and sent to the States for ratification the 23rd amendment. It was the 23rd amendment that extended to the people of the District of Columbia representation in the electoral college. It was 285 days later that the 23rd amendment was ratified by the States. That ratification settled the question of whether the people of the District of Columbia should have the right to vote for President, and it settled that question absolutely conclusively, by way of amendment to our U.S. Constitution.
"I believe the people of the District of Columbia have been without representation in the Congress for too long. I have strongly supported the view that the people of the District should have voting representation in the House of Representatives, but what we have before us today, S. 160, does not conclusively resolve the question of whether they will.
"We know the question of whether Congress may, by legislation, grant the District of Columbia a vote in the House of Representatives has been a matter of spirited debate not only here on this floor but with constitutional scholars on all sides of the issue. It was our assistant majority leader yesterday who observed that S. 160 has attracted--I think the words were some strange bedfellows amongst the community of constitutional scholars. We have very distinguished individuals such as Ken Starr and Viet Dinh who suggest that, in fact, S. 160 is constitutional. On the other side, we have an extremely well-respected gentleman, Jonathan Turley, who has testified that despite the best of motivations, S. 160 is fundamentally flawed on a constitutional level and would only serve to delay true reform for District residents. His conclusion is that this legislation is facially unconstitutional.
"We also have a review by our nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, their assessment and their analysis, and they, too, cast doubt on the constitutionality of S. 160. Their report, dated February 17, 2009, states: “Although not beyond question, it would appear likely that Congress does not have the authority to grant voting representation in the House of Representatives to the District of Columbia. “
"So the key point here is this: I believe the District of Columbia deserves representation in the House of Representatives, but S. 160 does not conclusively resolve the question of whether they will get it.
I think we have heard on this floor that this is going to lead to litigation. The issue, of course, is how do we interpret article I, section 2, of the Constitution, which says: “The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen ..... by the people of the several States. “
"I don't think there is any dispute amongst the constitutional scholars who are out there that the District of Columbia is not a State for the purposes of article I, section 2. If the courts shall conclude that article I, section 2, of the Constitution means what it says--that only the people of the several States can send voting Representatives to the House--then basically we start all over. We start all over. We start anew with a constitutional amendment on DC representation.
"So I would suggest to the body that what we are engaging in today is almost a cruel hoax because what we are doing is we are delaying the end of taxation without representation for several more years. What we are doing is getting this into the courts. Is that what the people of the District are really seeking?
"I think 49 years ago the Congress understood what we needed to do in order to provide clarity and to conclusively resolve the issue of the District of Columbia with the 23rd amendment. We knew the way to handle it was to give the people of the District of Columbia a voice in the selection of the President and Vice President, and the route they chose to take was the route of a constitutional amendment. They knew then that was the proper route to take, and I would suggest that today it is the proper route to take to provide for this. This Senator believes that is what we owe to the people of the District of Columbia, to get it right the first time. Let's resolve this. A constitutional amendment passed by the Congress, ratified by the States, settles the matter of DC representation conclusively, and S. 160 doesn't.
"Now, we know the history on this. This was tried once before. A constitutional amendment was adopted by two-thirds of both bodies and sent to the States for ratification. Unfortunately, only 16 States chose to ratify within that 7-year period. So we basically come back to start over. I would suggest that is the method and manner we need to approach as we try to provide representation for the 600,000 people who are residents of the District of Columbia.
"I am prepared to support a constitutional amendment and to work for its ratification, and I intend to introduce that constitutional amendment today. It will not be part of S. 160. A constitutional amendment is a different process, one that is done through joint resolution as opposed to a Senate measure or a House measure. I believe amending our Constitution will provide justice for the people of the District of Columbia, and I look forward to working toward that end.
"With that, I yield the floor."
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