SPECIAL CLBR: Eleanor Holmes Norton Discusses a Capitol Offense


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washington_dcOn this day in 1801, President John Adams signed the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 that placed the District of Columbia under the jurisdiction of Congress.  At that time, Washington, D.C. was a city of 3,200 people, but the District of Columbia included Georgetown and Alexandria, Virginia and combined the city had a population of nearly 11,000 which made it the 6th largest city in the United States.  The Organic Act made those citizens “stateless” and Washington residents:

  • would not be able to vote for President until 163 years later.
    Thirty-three Presidents (from Jefferson to Kennedy) were elected without any vote from District residents.
  • would not have a representative in Congress until 169 years later
    (even though Puerto Rico has had one since 1898)
  • would not elect a Mayor for the District until 173 years later.

In 2003, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States concluded that the United States is violating the District of Columbia’s rights under Articles II and XX of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man by denying District of Columbia citizens an effective opportunity to participate in the Congress. The commission reiterated the following recommendation to the United States:

“Provide the Petitioners with an effective remedy, which includes adopting the legislative or other measures necessary to guarantee to the Petitioners the effective right to participate, directly or through freely chosen representatives and in general conditions of equality, in their national legislature.”

On the 212th anniversary of the Organic Act, Washington is a booming city home to a thriving tech sector but its residents still

  • have no voting rights in Congress, as they only have a non-voting delegate in the House and no representation in the Senate; and
  • all city laws remain subject to Congressional veto something that was exploited for political purposes in the 1980s by then-Senator Jesse Helms to veto a number of DC laws.

There are proposals in Congress to address both issues.  The twelve-term District of Columbia’s Delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a former Georgetown Law Professor and a member of the EEOC under President Carter joins CLBR to discuss the continued disenfranchisement of 632,323 District residents.

Photo Credits:  Eleanor Holmes Norton Official Portrait and George Mason University.