Norton Releases Clinton Impeachment Transcript, Calls for D.C. Statehood

Dec 18, 2019
Press Release

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

this time.

 

  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

impeachment.

 

  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.

Speaker.

 

  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

Columbia.

 

  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

House.

 

  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

Amendment.

 

  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

process.

 

  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).

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