WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin submitted the following statement concerning D.C.’s criminal code to the record before the Senate voted to overturn a capital city law for the first time in more than 30 years on Wednesday.
“D.C. Statehood is long overdue. There is no justification for the denial of rights and representation for the 700,000 citizens of the District of Columbia. They deserve to have their voices heard in our democracy; they deserve true self-governance and the right to have a say in the policies that will affect their lives.
Our Nation’s capital is home to more than 700,000 fellow Americans who, despite our Nation’s founding mantra — ‘no taxation without representation’ — pay their share of taxes without full voting representation in either chamber of Congress. In fact, despite paying more in federal taxes per capita than citizens of any of the 50 States, D.C. residents have no say in how those taxes are actually spent.
This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s an American issue because the lack of fair representation for D.C. residents is clearly inconsistent with the values on which this country was founded. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us who enjoy the right and the privilege of full voting rights and representation to take up the cause of our fellow citizens in the District of Columbia.
We must use our voices to call out this historic injustice and right this wrong.
D.C. has more residents than two States – Wyoming and Vermont. It has a population comparable to Alaska and Delaware. DC pays more in federal taxes than 23 States. Yet it has no representation here in the Senate. Along with my colleagues who make up the informal “National Capital Area” delegation, I have worked over the years to advance the District’s interests given its proximity to the two States and significant cross-border commuting and business activity.
Statehood for D.C. is not about taking away the power and representation of residents of other States. This is not and should never be interpreted as a zero-sum game. Instead, what we have here is a situation that clearly conflicts with our democratic ideals.
The District includes people of all backgrounds. However unique the District might be, its residents are hardworking people who do not differ from other Americans in their basic entitlement to representation. Taxation without representation is a compelling argument for statehood. It should be enough to move Congress to act. Instead, we’re regressing here.
Rubbing salt into the wound of this intrusion is the fact that proponents of the Joint Resolution deliberately mischaracterize what the Criminal Code revision does, or fails to do. The Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 (the “RCCA”) comprehensively revises D.C.’s criminal code, which had not been updated since its creation in 1901. We may agree or disagree with some of its provisions, but it is a matter that should be left to the elected officials of the District.
Congress has passed joint resolutions disapproving D.C. legislation on three occasions; the last time occurred in 1991. A resolution of disapproval has not received a floor vote in either chamber since 2015.
In recent years, it appears that our friends across the aisle have introduced joint resolutions of disapproval to undermine D.C. self-governance as a means for advancing partisan policy narratives around controversial topics such as crime, COVID-19 vaccinations, reproductive health, and harm reduction programs such as needle exchange.
Although D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the Council’s Criminal Code revision (the Council voted 12-1 to override the veto), she also indicated her staunch opposition to Congress intervening in the City’s affairs. I agree with Mayor Bowser.
The District’s Attorney General, Brian L. Schwalb, sent a letter to the Senate on February 23, 2023 in which he eloquently stated,
Ironically, many who have expressed support for overriding these two D.C. local laws have long espoused the virtues of freedom from federal government interference and respect for states’ rights…
…I am well aware of the Constitutional power granted to Congress in Article I, Section 8, Clause 17. However, merely because Congress has the power to act does not mean that it should exercise that power. Particularly given Congress’ stated intent when passing the Home Rule Act to empower the District “to the greatest extent possible” with the responsibility of “legislating upon essentially local District matters,” I urge the Senate to reject calls for disapproval of D.C. local laws, and instead, to stand up for democratic values, stand against disenfranchisement, and stand with the residents of our Nation’s capital.
I agree with Attorney General Schwalb. I deeply regret that Congress is intervening in the affairs of people who have no representation, especially here in the Senate, and I urge my colleagues to defeat this misguided measure.”
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