Category Archives: DC

D.C. Voting Rights

As promised, here is a non-economics-related post. The Congress is remarkably close to granting voting rights in the House to the D.C. delegate, effectively ending the situation emblazoned on virtually all of the license plates one sees from the District. Now, of course, this bill will certainly be heard before the Supreme Court, as its constitutionality is in question.

To state the problem briefly, the Constitution declares that voting rights in Congress shall be granted to representatives¬† “of the several States.” D.C., of course, is not a state but a federal district. Strict interpretation of the Constitution as it stands would require that D.C. never receive voting rights in Congress, and numerous people have argued this to be the case.

In the 1970s, an amendment to grant D.C. voting representation was proposed. It passed Congress but failed to garner the approval of 38 state legislatures, and thus expired after 7 years in limbo. Often it is argued that, if D.C. wants voting representation, then another amendment should be proposed. Anything less, it is declared, would violate the dicta of the Constitution.

Of course, I must agree that, literally, the Constitution only allows for voting rights in Congress to go to the representatives of the several states. In this sense, I do tend to agree that one way to resolve the problem would be to pass an amendment. However, I feel that I have to point out something I find rather interesting with the literalism espoused by those who declare that the D.C. Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional.

The First Amendment says, and I quote, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…”. Look at that phrasing again: shall make no law. That is as absolute a statement of legal restriction as can be made. However, we abridge free speech all the time. Incitements to imminent lawless action? Criminal. Libel and slander? Criminal. Various kinds of obscene or pornographic material? Criminal. These laws are all violations of the Constitution when read literally. There is no wiggle room with a literal interpretation of “shall make no law.”

This is why I do not read the Constitution literally. I think incitements to imminent lawless action should be criminal; libel and slander should be criminal, etc. Allowing D.C. a voting representative, while in a¬† literal sense unconstitutional, is certainly at least as reasonable an action as criminalizing slander. So, literalists, which way do you want it: D.C. gets voting rights and we keep laws I’m sure most of you want to keep, or we continue with your literalist fetish and, along with denying D.C. a vote, strike down every single law which abridges the freedom of speech (and that is just for a start).

Pick one.

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So you think you’re going to attend an Inauguration, do you?

You’ll have to deal with the apparently colossal incompetence of the Capitol Police and associated security first.

Yes, they did run a ceremony which went off with nary a security problem to be found. They should be acknowledged for that. However, that essentially ends the positive things I have to say about the ceremony today and the people who planned it.

I managed to get a purple-area standing ticket. Foolishly, I thought that would let me get through the gates into the purple standing area. Many thousands of others did as well. It soon became apparent, though, that no one was running the show in the staging area for the purple entrance. The line from the east stretched all the way from the screening entrance at Louisiana and C streets up 1st Street, left on D street, and then left down the 2nd Street exit ramp from the 395 tunnel at least much of the way though the 395 tunnel nearing the exit on the south side of the Mall. Suffice it to say, many thousands of us purple-ticket holders were standing–quite patiently and good-naturedly, fortunately–in line for hours. That was the Capitol Police’s first mistake: they only opened the gates at 9am instead of, say, 7am. Their second mistake: not having any official presence all along the line–there was no one to stop people from jumping in wherever and getting in ahead of others. No one was around to direct us which way to go, so those of us further back in the line simply followed those ahead of us, who we assumed knew the way. That worked relatively well until the end, when it became apparent that the entrance was actually not where it looked like it was–a large sign said “Purple Gate” at 1st and Louisiana, but the gate had actually shifted a block north for some reason to the aforementioned Lousiana and C intersection.

So, now that the route is out of the way, the incredible slowness of progress becomes the next issue. There were not nearly enough screening stations, as evidenced by the thousands of purple ticket holders who couldn’t get in before they closed the gates in our faces. I was about 30-40 feet from the entrance gate when they closed it. All around me, other purple holders waved their tickets in the air to no avail.

What is sad about this is that, for the area I was supposed to be in, the same number of tickets are always available. This was the standardized standing-area for which tickets are distributed at every inauguration. There is no reason that they should not have been able to prepare for and process all of the people who had tickets, since that number was no more than any previous inauguration–none of which, to my knowledge, had problems with getting ticketed people in.

I ended up seeing nothing and listening to the inaugural address over a radio which someone had the foresight to bring. Extremely disappointing, to say the least.

What compounds the annoyance, though, is the complete cover-my-ass mode which the police chief entered. He initially had the gall to say that all ticketed people were able to get in to see the inauguration. After being called on his complete lie, he suggested that there were some people who couldn’t get in, with purple ticket holders being particularly affected. This WaPo blog post about sums it up: http://tinyurl.com/6tl2yt. Also, as I was near the gate at the time they closed it, I can tell you that, while it was crowded, everyone was very well-behaved and there was definitely no “surge” to get in that could have hurt anyone. It would seem that the police just reached the time when they had to close the gate and needed an excuse for all the people who couldn’t get in.

Ultimately, I met some nice people with whom I chatted in line, but was worse off than if I’d simply gone onto the Mall and watched it on one of the screens. At least they got to see something…

Perhaps the most useless ticket I've ever had--a nice souvenir, to be sure, but sadly ineffective in fulfilling its primary duty.

Perhaps the most useless ticket I’ve ever had–a nice souvenir, to be sure, but sadly ineffective in fulfilling its primary duty.