Opinion: The court says D.C. disenfranchisement isn’t unconstitutional. It’s still un-American.


“I had been prepared to lose in court, but not to lose the issue. I regard this as a winnable cause — and winnable in the near term.” That was D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) in 2000 commenting on the Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the ruling of a three-judge panel that D.C. residents do not have a constitutional right to voting representation in Congress. Ms. Norton was clearly wrong in her optimism about getting justice “in the near term” for D.C. residents — a point painfully driven home more than two decades later when the Supreme Court ruled against a legal effort to give the District voting representation in Congress. No question, though, that Ms. Norton was right in her resolve that this is a cause — involving fundamental rights for American citizens — that must be won and not abandoned.

In a brief unsigned order last week that turned away the appeal, the justices cited the legal precedent in the 2000 case that D.C. is not constitutionally entitled to voting representation because it is not a state. Ten D.C. residents brought the federal suit in 2018 employing an inventive legal theory that the District’s nonvoting status violated due process, equal protection and freedom of association under the First Amendment. They argued that Congress has provided the vote to others who don’t reside in a state, such as Americans living overseas, which they cited as evidence of District residents’ unequal treatment under the law. Neither the three-judge district court panel that ruled in March 2020 against the D.C. residents nor the Supreme Court addressed that contention; there were no oral arguments.