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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Staff Editorial: D.C.’s laws belong to its residents, not Congress

From go-go music to mambo sauce and early blooming cherry blossoms, plenty of things set D.C. apart from the rest of the continental U.S. There are even our license plates that proclaim “end taxation without representation.” The maxim reflects the problem dogging the District’s government – living in the nation’s capital has plenty of perks, but its lack of full local control isn’t one of them.

Federal lawmakers atop Capitol Hill delivered a stern reminder of the limitations on the city’s ability to govern itself earlier this month when the U.S. House of Representatives voted to reject D.C.’s revised criminal code and strike down a bill allowing noncitizens to vote in local D.C. elections. The Senate will vote on the resolutions nullifying the city’s legislation in March, and President Joe Biden can either sign or veto them if they pass the Senate.

Though you won’t hear about it during a guided tour, congressional oversight of D.C.’s government as outlined in the Constitution makes the District one of a kind. The 1973 Home Rule Act – or home rule, for short – transferred power from the president and their appointees who governed the city to a locally elected mayor and the D.C. Council. But home rule still has its limits. Congressional review of the city’s legislation and control over its budget remains in place, meaning any proposals that emerge from the Wilson Building have to endure a grueling examination and political grandstanding on Capitol Hill.

But before Congress intervened, the D.C. Council didn’t update the city’s century-old criminal code and pass the Local Voting Rights Amendment Act without controversy. Mayor Muriel Bowser opposed revising the criminal code – which wouldn’t come into effect until October 2025 – and vetoed the overhaul before the D.C. Council overrode her 12-1. And while D.C. has a large immigrant population, some city residents and members of Congress believe the right to vote in all elections should be reserved for citizens.

But federal officials have no business getting involved with the District’s affairs. Congress should value the principle of self-government over the specifics of the policies it scrutinizes, yet Republican members of the House and the dozens of Democrats who joined them are socking the city’s democracy in the face for the sake of schadenfreude. These naysaying politicians may be fulfilling their constitutional obligation to review D.C.’s laws, but they don’t represent the District, its people or their interests.

Members of Congress whose constituents live anywhere but in the District itself are acting as if they know what’s best for D.C. And that’s not for the first time, either. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., has expressed support for repealing home rule together, while Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., blocked the District from legalizing the sale of marijuana in 2015. Clyde, Harris and the rest of their ilk have their own districts where they can try out these archaic, reckless policies. But in flexing their unchecked power over D.C. to score points with their constituents, they’re following in the footsteps of white supremacist politicians who yearned to keep D.C. segregated in the 1930s and 1940s. In historically majority-Black D.C., it’s impossible to hear patronizing calls to keep the District in line as anything other than a screeching dog whistle.

Worse still, there’s no unified strategy among the District’s leaders to stand up to congressional overreach. Bowser implored senators to keep their hands off D.C. in a tweet Thursday and demanded members of Congress “leave us alone” after the House vote – not exactly a valiant defense of democracy. And shadow Sen. Mike Brown, whose position exists to advocate for D.C. statehood, shifted the blame onto the city itself. The D.C. Council acted like a “petulant child” for sending legislation allowing noncitizens to vote before a conservative, Republican-led House, he told Axios earlier this month.

Regardless of how everyone from everyday citizens up to the mayor herself feels about these bills, members of the District don’t need Congress telling them what to do. And whether they’re only here for four years or plan to make the District their home, GW students have a distinct ability and responsibility to advocate for the city’s right to self-government at the most politically active campus in the U.S.

The House vote made clear that the fate of D.C.’s laws is a national issue. GW students from elsewhere in the U.S. enjoy the simultaneous benefit of living in D.C. and receiving democratic representation in our home states. So let’s put democracy to good use on behalf of the city we call home.

If you believe in a D.C. governed by and for the people, pressure your members of Congress back home to support that vision, too. Find out how your representative voted and contact your senator before the Senate votes to nullify the District’s laws in March. Where do they stand on home rule? Would they support D.C. statehood, which would avoid the issue of congressional review altogether?

Democracy is imperfect – it can produce unpopular and controversial policies that may not stand the test of time. But it’s a far better alternative to the unelected dictatorship looming over D.C. We’re fortunate to study, live, learn and work here. Whether you’re a catalyst for change or sentinel of self-government, help ensure the District’s future belongs to the people who live here instead of 435 politicians they didn’t vote for.

The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by Opinions Editor Ethan Benn and Contributing Opinions Editor Julia Koscelnik, based on discussions with Sports Editor Nuria Diaz, Managing Editor Jaden DiMauro, Culture Editor Clara Duhon, Design Editor Grace Miller and Contributing Social Media Director Ethan Valliath.

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