I think the Constitution is pretty clear on this (emphasis added):
Article I, Section 2, Clause 1: “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.”
Amendment XVII, Clause 1: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.”
Article I, Section 8, Clause 17: “Congress shall have the power … To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings”
Members of the House and Senate must be elected from states. The District of government is clearly defined as being created from land donated by states, establishing that it is not a state in and of itself. Therefore, it cannot, Constitutionally, have voting representation.
I am an avid supporter of District voting rights, or at least as much as one can be when the nature of their job precludes political activism. That said, I don’t think Lieberman’s proposal passes Constitutional muster. An amendment is the only legal means of accomplishing this.
But let’s say we shift our focus from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. The District of Columbia was never meant to be a state, but it was also never meant to become one of the 25 largest cities in the United States (572,059 residents according to the 2000 Census, larger than the state of Wyoming). It was never envisioned as having permanent residents, and until the New Deal era, it largely did not.
But now it does, and that’s a consequence we have to deal with. The Framers clearly would have never wanted so many people not having Congressional representation. So, the argument for House representation is pretty solid. Representatives represent actual people, and there is no reason a single taxpaying citizen should go unrepresented in Congress.
But Senators, even though they are now elected by popular vote, represent states, not people. This is a reflection of the belief that the United States is a federation comprising 50 equal states.
So, I must begrudgingly admit, I’m not so sure the District should be represented in the Senate. It’s not a state, and the Senate was clearly designed as a place where the states do their business.
Of course, if you pass a Constitutional amendment, this renders all of this moot. I’m always wary of tampering with the Constitution, but in this case an exception might make sense. Yeah, the District is not inherently a State, but it basically functions as one now. It has it’s own executive, legislative and judicial branches, it’s own law enforcement mechanisms and all the other trappings of statehood.
It is missing one element though: It doesn’t fund all of its own operations. Much of the District’s budget comes from the federal government itself. No state gets so high a percentage of its budget from the federal government as the District. Is it fair that an entity that people want to be equal with the states (at least in the Senate) should receive so much of its money from the federal government itself?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I’m a District resident (got my D.C. drivers license and everything) but I also have a nearly religious reverence for the Constitution and Constitutional theory. So I’m really torn.