When President Obama announced Wednesday that he would nominate Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) held her applause. Norton, the District’s non-voting representative in Congress, has long been one of the city’s chief proponents for voting representation in Congress — and Garland ruled in a landmark case on the issue in 2000 that the residents of the city do not have the constitutional right to such representation. The Supreme Court later affirmed that decision, although it did not hear oral arguments in the case. “Norton and other officials and residents were deeply disappointed with the decision, even though they realized that the case was one of first impression,” a Wednesday statement from Norton’s office read. “Norton has not yet had the opportunity to look into Judge Garland’s 19-year record on the federal court and before, but she said that especially considering that the District has no senators, she believes that the Senate must fulfill its constitutional obligation to give Judge Garland a fair hearing so that he may be questioned about the D.C. case and the rest of his record.” Garland, who is the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and is widely considered to be a moderate, was part of a three-judge federal panel to preside over the Alexander v. Daley case in March 2000.
Garland, a Maryland resident, noted the inequity of Washington’s lack of voting representation in the majority opinion, but he effectively said that the city is not a state, and the constitution only grants congressional voting representation to state residents. This battle, the opinion noted, was one better fought through policy than in the courts.
“Many courts have found a contradiction between the democratic ideals upon which this country was founded and the exclusion of District residents from congressional representation,” the panel’s majority opinion read, which Garland was joined by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. “All, however, have concluded that it is the Constitution and judicial precedent that create the contradiction.”
The cause of voting representation, and of statehood, has support among the city’s largely liberal residents. A November 2015 Washington Post poll found that nearly three in four residents say they are upset that the District has no voting representation in Congress, and about half describe themselves as “very upset” over the issue.