Orrin Hatch Makes Bizarre Case for New House Seats

Senator Orrin Hatch's recent letter to the Deseret News seems to me to be an effort in propaganda. His discussion about the District of Columbia having a seat in the House of Representatives has some logic to it, but the contortions he goes through to say that Utah should also have another House Seat is atrocious.

He begins by saying:

Legislation is necessary to give the District of Columbia a seat, and Utah another seat, in the House of Representatives so Americans are properly represented in Congress.

D.C., maybe. Utah--no way.

Let's leave aside the reasoning that Senator Hatch uses to justify a D.C. House seat. I'll talk about that below--after I talk about his contorted Utah House Seat "logic".

Here's what he says about Utah:

This legislation would give Utah the fourth House seat we deserve and years of seniority before the next census and redistricting process would be complete. I remind those who insist that process will necessarily give Utah a fourth (the News says even a fifth) seat that we thought so after the last census. However, the extra seat is not guaranteed — some other states are already claiming it. So this legislation would not jump the representation gun; it would correct an injustice.

I agree with the News that this issue must be addressed "in the proper way — on its merits." Doing so requires putting all the pieces together. The Constitution does not prevent accomplishing by legislation the goal of America's founders that Americans, including in Utah and the District, be properly represented in Congress.

Okay, he's right, when he says "The Constitution does not prevent accomplishing by legislation the goal of America's founders..." But the problem is that he doesn't end his sentence before he gets himself in some obvious hot water.

There is no way that Hatch's legislation could be passed without violating the Constitution. It would turn the need for a national census on its head by giving Utah a extra seat in perpetuity regardless of whether Utah's future population relative to the other United States warranted it.

Let's wait for the 2010 census. Chances are very high that we'll get a 4th seat then. But what if legislation gives us one now, and we don't qualify for it then. Do we get to keep it? I should surely hope not. That's why this legislation is inane.

The Constitution refers several times to the "states". According to Senator Hatch:

For more than two centuries, courts have approved application to the District of constitutional, statutory and treaty provisions that are similarly phrased in terms of states. The original Constitution, for example, said that "direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states." Article I gives Congress authority to regulate commerce "among the several states." Article III says that federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits between "citizens of different states." The Sixth Amendment requires a speedy criminal trial in the "state" where the crime was committed. An international treaty refers to "all states of the Union." Each of these now applies to the District.
That's all well and good, but the Founding Fathers knew--and left it that way--that the District would have other benefits to outweigh the fact that they didn't have representation in Congress. Interestingly enough, a Constitutional amendment to grant D.C. representation in Congress failed in the 1977-1984 ratification period.

The solution to this problem is not to give Washington, D.C. a seat in the US House of Representatives. Rather, if anything, D.C. residents should have voting rights in Maryland, from which the existing District was ceded in 1790. If not, then what happens after they get a seat in the house? Do they get two seats in the Senate?

Senator Hatch is attempting to open Pandora's Box.


  1. Getting two seats in the Senate for the District is the stated goal of many D.C. proponents of this legislation. If D.C. gets a true house seat, they have said they will argue, what sense does it make not to have senate seats as well? Arguments agains this logic will fail.

    If the District not having voting seats in Congress is an injustice, let's fix it. But let's fix it constitutionally, not through some perverse twisting of our nation's founding document. Either amend the Constitution or return the residential areas of D.C. to Maryland. But don't mess around with the meaning of 'state.' Promoters also know that if D.C. goes this way, the next thing to do will be to argue for Puerto Rico, Guam, etc. to get full voting representation in Congress. Why not? What would be the argument against it?

    Back in 1976 Hatch argued that seniority isn't important. Now he has changed his tune. In fact, he frequently suggests that seniority is everything in Congress. Thus, he makes the seniority play here as well. And Hatch is actually right. Seniority is everything to the members of Congress. But does it actually serve the citizens well? I like the 1976 Hatch arguments much better than the 2007 Hatch arguments.

  2. My favorite part was the districting maps that were drawn up to ensure that there would always be a majority republican representation by watering down the district Jim Matheson represents.

  3. I agree. Gerrymandering sucks, whether it's done by Repubs or Dems.


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