Norton Releases Clinton Impeachment Transcript, Calls for D.C. Statehood
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) released the transcript of her House floor speech 20 years ago during impeachment for President Bill Clinton, calling on the House to recognize the right of District of Columbia residents to vote on that matter. Norton says that her comments on the Trump and Clinton impeachments both ring true today. The 23rd Amendment gives 700,000 District residents, who pay the highest federal taxes per capita, the right to vote for the President and Vice President. It follows logically that D.C. residents should have a vote on removing a president.
Norton's 1998 remarks can be found here and below.
Ms. NORTON. Mr. Speaker, most Americans do not know and most people
in the world are unaware that the residents of the Nation's Capitol do not have
any representation in the Senate and cannot vote on this floor.
But the Constitution of the United States, in its 23rd amendment,
does give to the residents of the District the right to vote for
President and Vice President of the United States. The same
Constitution that gives the District the right to vote for President
must recognize the right of District residents to representation for a
vote on removal of the President.
I have submitted a narrowly-tailored resolution, along with a legal
memorandum, for a narrowly-tailored right. I am not here asking for the
delegate vote in the Committee of the Whole at this time. I am not
asking for a House vote. I am asking to vote only on impeachment, in
order to perfect the rights of District residents under the 23rd
amendment. The House has abundant authority to grant me this right at
Clause 2 of the 23rd amendment gives the House the power to enforce
the amendment through legislation. My resolution is that legislation.
The District clause, as this body so often reminds us, gives Members
full authority over the District of Columbia, and the impeachment
clause gives Members unilateral authority, or the sole power of
The 23rd amendment explicitly treats the District as a State for
purposes of electing the President and the Vice President.
I ask for this right in the name of half a million people, the only
Americans who pay Federal income taxes who do not have full
representation in the Congress. They are a third per capita in Federal
income taxes. Their one right that is explicitly mentioned in the
Constitution is the right to vote for President and Vice President.
The decision to expel a President from office is as important as the
decision to elect the President to office. Indeed, the decision to
expel him is more momentous. There are no partial rights in the
Constitution. It is unconstitutional and irrational to interpret the
23rd amendment to afford a vote for President, but no vote on whether
to impeach a President.
Let this process begin on a high note of fairness. In the name of the
half million American citizens who happen to live in the Nation's
Capital, I ask for the vote in these impeachment proceedings, Mr.
Mr. Speaker, today I introduce a resolution affording the District of
Columbia Delegate a vote in impeachment proceedings. The House is fully
empowered to enact my resolution under Article I, Sec. 2, clause 5 of
the Constitution (stating that the ``House of Representatives . . .
shall have the sole Power of Impeachment''); the Twenty-Third Amendment
affording the people of the District of Columbia the right to vote for
President of the United States; and Article I, Sec. 8, clause 17 of the
Constitution affording Congress plenary power over the District of
I am seeking to protect the constitutional right of District
residents to vote for President by securing a vote in the impeachment
proceedings only. My resolution is narrowly tailored and would not be a
grant of voting privileges to the Delegate in other proceedings of the
American citizens living in the District of Columbia participated in
the last two presidential elections by choosing as their electors three
citizens pledged to President Clinton. Unless Congress acts to remedy
the situation under the Twenty-Third Amendment, the District population
will be the only community of American citizens who participated in the
Presidential elections of 1992 and 1996 who will have no vote at all on
impeachment or conviction.
This constitutional asymmetry not only violates the rights of more
than half a million voters; it is unnecessary. Congress has sufficient
authority under the District Clause and under the enforcement clause of
the Twenty-Third Amendment to grant the District of Columbia Delegate
to the House of Representatives a vote in the House impeachment process
on the House floor. The Supreme Court has liberally construed
enforcement clauses in all of the suffrage amendments to vindicate the
broad and central constitutional purpose of securing equal voting and
participation rights for all Americans.
The Twenty-Third Amendment put the District of Columbia essentially
on the same level as the states for purposes of presidential elections.
The purpose of Twenty-Third Amendment was to give Congress the power
to provide the residents of the District an equal role in selecting the
President and the Vice-President. The Amendment allows District
residents to participate in presidential elections on an equal footing
with the states.
Today, this right can be fully vindicated only by reading the Twenty-
Third Amendment to permit Congress to grant the District of Columbia
Delegate a vote on the Resolution Impeaching William Jefferson Clinton,
President of the United States. Otherwise, the political will and
sovereignty of residents of the District of Columbia in the selection
of the president will be lost in violation of the Twenty-Third
The legislative history of the Twenty-Third Amendment does not
contradict this conclusion. Apparently because impeachment has been so
rare, there was no discussion of this problem at the time. This is the
first occasion that articles of presidential impeachment will go to the
floor of the House since the Twenty-Third Amendment was added to the
Constitution in 1961. This is a case of first impression.
The Twenty-Third Amendment is part of our Constitution's progressive
inclusion of all ``the governed'' in the processes of government. The
Fifteenth Amendment secured the right of African-Americans to vote. The
Nineteenth Amendment extended the right to vote to women. The Twenty-
Fourth Amendment abolished the poll tax. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment
gave the right to vote to 18-year olds. All of these suffrage
amendments have been interpreted liberally to secure the inclusion of
once disenfrachised Americans. As the Supreme Court stated in Reynolds
v. Sims in 1964: ``history has seen a continuing expansion of the scope
of the right of suffrage in this country. The right to vote freely for
the candidate of one's choice is of the essence of a democratic
society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of
representative government.'' 337 U.S. 533 (1964)
This reasoning applies equally to the Twenty-Third Amendment and
American citizens who happen to live in the nation's capital.
The case for the Delegate's vote on impeachment would be harder put
if such participation had to be self-executing. But section 2 provides
that, ``the Congress shall have power to enforce this article by
appropriate legislation.'' Since Congress is given the instrumental
role in activating and enforcing the Twenty-Third Amendment, it may
interpret that amendment to give the Delegate the right to cast her
vote along with the representatives of all the other states that
participated in the presidential electoral college.
The Supreme Court has clearly treated impeachment as a political
question solely within legislative competence and control. In Nixon v.
United States, 506 U.S. 224 (1993), the Court rejected an impeached
judge's attack on Senate Impeachment Rule XI, under which the presiding
officer appoints a committee of Senators to ``receive evidence and take
testimony.'' The Court found that this process of delegating to a
committee was wholly within the Senate's powers because the Senate has
``the sole power to try all Impeachments.'' Article I, Section 3,
Clause 6. The Court found that the ``common sense meaning of the word
`sole' is that the Senate alone shall have authority to determine
whether an individual should be acquitted or convicted. . . . If the
courts may review actions of the Senate in order to determine whether
that body `tried' an impeached official, it is difficult to see how the
Senate would be `functioning . . . independently and without assistance
or interference.' ''
Just as the Senate has the ``sole power'' to shape and control the
trial process, the House of Representatives has the ``sole power of
Impeachment'' in the first instance. Article I, Section 2, Clause 5. As
the Nixon Court itself pointed out in discussing the nonreviewability
of the Senate trail, ``the word `sole' appears only one other time in
the Constitution--with respect to the House of Representatives' sole
Power of Impeachment.'' Thus, like the Senate, the House of
Representatives is free to structure the impeachment proceeding
consistent with its own judgment of constitutional requirements.
The Delegate's participation on the impeachment articles can thus be
accomplished by way of a House rule. Article 1, Section 5 of the
Constitution generally makes ``Each House'' both ``the Judge of the
Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members'' and the sole
body to ``determine the Rules of its proceedings.'' As precedent, the
House unilaterally granted the Delegate from the District of Columbia
and other Delegates full power to vote in Committee of the Whole
deliberations, a decision upheld against constitutional attack in
Michel v. Anderson. This case, too, presents little constitutional
difficulty because the House is not acting in its bicameral legislative
capacity but rather in its unilateral capacity to ``have the sole power
of Impeachment'' under Article 1, Section 2. Thus, the House must be
able to design and enforce its own rules for conducting the impeachment
The Supreme Court has recognized an extremely broad degree of
interpretive powers under congressional enforcement clauses found in
the Constitution's suffrage amendments. In Katzenbach versus Morgan it
upheld the power of Congress, under Section 5 of the Fourteenth
Amendment, to override a New York law and grant the right to vote to all persons who had completed the sixth grade in Puerto Rican schools regardless of their inability to read or write English. The Court rejected the argument that Congress' powers under the enforcement clause were limited only to what
the Fourteenth Amendment itself required, stating rather that: ``It is
the power of Congress which has been enlarged. Congress is authorized
to enforce the prohibitions by appropriate legislation. Some
legislation is contemplated to make the amendments fully effective.''
The Court emphasized that Congress was acting to protect voting
rights and expressed reluctance to interfere with congressional
judgement in this field. The Court said: ``It was well within
congressional authority to say that this need of the Puerto Rican
minority for the vote warranted federal intrusion upon any state
interests served by the English literacy requirement. It was for
Congress, as the branch that made this judgement, to assess and weigh
the various conflicting considerations . . .''
The Court concluded that any legislation enacted under the
enforcement clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was permissible so long
as the enactment `` `is plainly adapted to [the] end' '' of enforcing
Equal Protection and ``is not prohibited by but is consistent with `the
letter and spirit of the Constitution','' regardless of whether Equal
Protection itself dictates such a result.
Elsewhere, the Court has also found that enforcement clauses give the
Congress the power to act to vindicate voting interests even where a
particular statutory result is not constitutionally required. In South
Carolina versus Katzenbach, the Court upheld Congress' power under
Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment to enact the Voting Rights Act of
1965, which included a ban on literacy tests, the requirement that new
voting rules must be precleared, and the use of federal voting
examiners. The Court stated that ``Congress has full remedial powers to
effectuate the constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination
in voting.'' These powers are defined in these terms: ``Whatever
legislation is appropriate, that is, adapted to carry out the objects
the [Reconstruction] amendments have in view, whatever tends to enforce
submission to the prohibitions they contain, and to secure to all
persons the enjoyment of perfect equality of civil rights and the equal
protection of the laws against State denial or invasion, if not
prohibited, is brought within the domain of congressional power.''
In Oregon versus Mitchell, the Court unanimously upheld the Voting
Rights Act Amendments of 1970, which banned literacy tests for five
years. Using a mere rationality test, the court found that Congress
could rationally have found that these measures were needed to attack
the perpetuation of racial discrimination. In City of Rome versus
United States, the Court upheld Congress' Section 2 power to ban
electoral changes that are discriminatory in effect intentional
discrimination in voting. Thus, the Court found that Congress'
enforcement authority under Section 2 went beyond the strict
requirements of Section 1. The Court stated that it ``is clear . . .
that under Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment Congress may prohibit
practices that in and of themselves do not violate Section 1 of the
Amendment, so long as the prohibitions attacking racial discrimination
in voting are `appropriate.' ''
Because the Twenty-Third Amendment is an attempt to bring voting
rights to a historically disenfranchised population, its enforcement
clause should be read in a very broad way consistent with the Court's
deference to congressional enforcement of suffrage rights. It is also
relevant that the District Clause, contained in Article 1, Section 8,
Clause 17 of the Constitution, provides that Congress shall exercise
``exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever over ``the District.''
This ``plenary power'' has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to
give Congress complete authority over the District. There is thus ample
constitutional basis for Congress having the final authority to define
the meaning of the Twenty-third amendment, given that this is a
``case'' involving the District. The courts, at any rate, would, in all
likelihood, treat this matter as a political question solely within the
legislative competence, as impeachment is clearly a political question,
as determined by the Supreme Court in Nixon versus United States, 506
U.S. 224 (1993).