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Supreme Court Holds DC Not Entitled to Vote in Congress

October 4, 2021 by Dan McCue
The Supreme Court is seen on the first day of the new term, in Washington, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday affirmed a lower court ruling that denied District of Columbia residents a voting member in the House of Representatives.

As is their custom, the justices did not explain the rationale behind their summary disposition of the case, though they did note that Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch would have dismissed the case out of hand for lack of jurisdiction.

Currently, the District of Columbia has a single, non-voting member of the House, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

While she can vote on procedural matters and in congressional committees, she is not allowed to vote on the House floor for proposed legislation.

In their complaint, the 11 plaintiffs in Castañon v. United States of America argued that as U.S. citizens and taxpayers, they are unconstitutionally disenfranchised by this arrangement.

They went on to assert that having a representative who cannot vote on legislation on their behalf “violates the constitutional guarantees of equal protection, due process, and the constitutional right of association.” 

Though a number of entities, including the ACLU, League of Women Voters, DC Vote, Neighbors United for D.C. Statehood, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affair, joined their effort for recognition; a federal judge in the District ultimately ruled against the plaintiffs.

In ruling against the plaintiffs on Monday, the court cited its earlier decision in Adams v. Clinton. 

In that case the court acknowledged the unfairness of D.C.’s predicament, but said only Congress has the power to grant voting representation in the House.

The House passed voting rights legislation for DC earlier this year, but the bill effectively died in the Senate after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. (a state admitted to the union under unorthodox circumstances in 1863), said he opposed it.

In other court-related news, the justices appeared on Monday to put a bow on their July decision to vacate an appeals court ruling on former President Donald Trump’s decision to use $3.6 billion in defense dollars for border wall construction.

The case, now known as Biden v. Sierra Club, but formerly as, Trump v. Sierra Club, stems from the former president’s dispute with Congress over how to fund the expansion of a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico.

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump vowed to build the wall to keep illegal immigrants out of the country, and promised that Mexico was going to pay for it.

Having no way to actually make Mexico pay for the wall, Trump turned to Congress, which refused to grant direct appropriations for the project.

Trump responded in February 2019 by signing an executive order in which he cited his powers under the National Emergency Act to appropriate funds from the defense budget for the wall.

Several lawsuits followed, with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately ruling that the transfer of funds was an unconstitutional violation of the Appropriations Clause.

Trump petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case, and it was scheduled to be heard in February 2021.

In the meantime, Joe Biden was elected president and shortly thereafter rescinded Trump’s executive order rendering the case moot.

In July 2021, the Supreme Court granted the government’s request to vacate the ruling from the Ninth and remand the case there to determine if any further litigation was required.

Monday’s ruling directed the Ninth Circuit to direct the District Court to vacate its judgments and consider what further proceedings “are necessary and appropriate.”

The High Court also announced on Monday that it would not get involved in a lawsuit over a Pentagon cloud computing contract that was cancelled earlier this year.

In July, the Pentagon cancelled its contract with Microsoft for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud computing project. At the time it said it would instead pursue a deal with both Microsoft and Amazon and possibly other cloud service providers.

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