Opinion Pieces

Exempt DC Residents from Federal Taxation

Human Events

Washington - Rep. Louie Gohmert, February 13, 2009
Congressional liberals are once again trying to pass legislation to give Washington, D.C. a voting representative in the House. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s D.C. Voting Rights Act of 2009 is a bad bill, which would extinguish the Constitutional difference between the District of Columbia and the 50 states.

In a recent hearing on the bill, George Washington Law School professor Jonathan Turley has said that the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act is the "the most premeditatedly unconstitutional act by Congress in decades."

Why? Because our capital city was created to be something other than a state, and only states -- under the 14th Amendment -- are entitled to voting representation in the House. When the District’s residents were given the right to vote in presidential elections, that special status was recognized in another Constitutional amendment.

The 23rd Amendment enabled the District’s residents to choose electors in the presidential and vice presidential elections and, “they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State…”

"Taxation without representation is tyranny." In the mid 18th Century, James Otis, an attorney from colonial Massachusetts, is quoted as having made this declaration. It was a stirring complaint that became an important and effective battle cry during the American Revolution. The idea of "no taxation without representation" still exists as an important symbol of our way of life -- the American way of life. Even today, seeing it emblazoned across D.C. license plates has had an effect on me. It is truly antithetic to our founding principles to tax people who cannot elect a representative who votes on the assessment, collection, and spending of those tax dollars.

Congress understood how to Constitutionally address D.C.'s status in 1978, so it is disconcerting that the Democratic leadership is pushing so hard to pass an unconstitutional District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009. The bill's supporters claim that Congress derives this authority from Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution, which grants it legislative authority over D.C. This interpretation runs headlong into the plain text of Article I Section 2, which states that Members of Congress must come from "states."

Both the Supreme Court and Congressional supporters of Washington, D.C., voting rights since the District's founding have agreed that under the Constitution, Washington, D.C., is not a state. Proponents of the D.C. House Voting Rights Act should know that a Constitutional amendment is required, yet they are counting on an end run around Article I, Section 2, that the odds are overwhelmingly against. This effort does not, however, alleviate Congress' responsibility to immediately make the situation both lawful and fair.

That is why I have filed a bill -- H.R. 1014 -- to end the payment of federal income tax for those who are residents of Washington, D.C. If you think that seems farfetched, take a look at what we have done for other U.S. areas where, like D.C., a delegate is elected rather than a Representative:
  • Pursuant to the Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917, Puerto Rico's territorial government was reorganized, and all Puerto Ricans were granted citizenship. Because they do not have an elected Representative in Congress who votes on federal income taxes, Section 933 of the Internal Revenue Code exempts individuals who are residents of Puerto Rico from federal taxes on income earned in Puerto Rico.
  • In 1927, the Virgin Islands became a U.S. territory and its residents were granted citizenship. Under Section 932 of the Internal Revenue code, individuals who are residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands are not subject to federal income taxes on their income, thus avoiding their being taxed without representation.
  • Guam was established as a territory of the United States after the passage of the Guam Organic Act of 1950 and, therefore, has a delegate but does not have a representative with full voting rights in Congress. Accordingly, the provisions of section 935 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code provides that residents of Guam are required to file tax returns with Guam, but not with the U.S. federal government, so the residents do not have to pay U.S. federal income taxes.
  • The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands was established in 1975 after residents decided not to pursue independence but instead opted to enter into territorial negotiations. They do not have a representative with full voting rights in Congress. Accordingly, to avoid taxation without representation, residents of the Northern Mariana Islands are not required to pay U.S. federal income taxes.
  • American Samoa, which is technically considered "unorganized" because no Organic Acts have been passed by Congress, also does not have a Representative with full voting rights in Congress. It is governed by section 931 of the tax code. Under this law, to avoid taxation without representation, Samoans are exempt from federal taxes on income they earn in Samoa.
Therefore, it seems to me only fitting and just that D.C. residents should be treated as all other Americans. They should either have congressional representation with full voting rights (which requires a Constitutional Amendment for D.C.), or they should be exempted from paying federal income tax. This solution keeps with the early history and democratic traditions of the United States as well as the precepts in the Constitution.

D.C. residents should get in touch with the White House and with all representatives and delegates to demand the same fair treatment that other American voters get. Since the proponents in the Majority are intent on wasting effort, money, and many years battling to attempt the unconstitutional amendment of the Constitution legislatively, the exemption from income tax should be taken up immediately.

Years from now, when the unconstitutional effort is officially declared as such by the Supreme Court, we can address the issue properly and D.C. residents will look back at all the taxes they wouldn’t have paid in that time, and regret their representative’s actions. Surely, even those who want to be or have a representative from D.C. can set aside their ambitions long enough to support an immediate bill to end D.C. residents' paying federal income tax. I have filed the bill, but I need D.C. residents to be in touch with the Democratic leadership to get it to the floor for a vote and passage.

While we address D.C.'s unfair taxation, we should continue to seek Constitutional solutions to the District's lack of voting representation. Because Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution clearly requires that House members come from states, and the District is not a state, granting voting rights to residents requires more than the bill that was reviewed by the House Constitution Subcommittee last week. A broad reading of the clause granting Congress legislative dominion over D.C. in Article I, Section 8 is insufficient to overcome the plain requirements stated in Article I, Section 2.

One remedy would be to draw a boundary line around all federal buildings and cede the rest of the land back to Maryland. I have a bill -- H.R. 1015 -- just as I did in the last Congress, to do this very thing. That would afford residents of D.C. both a representative AND two senators. In 1847, there was a desire to allow D.C. land located across the Potomac that was not being used by the federal government to have its own proper representation in Congress. Congress legislatively ceded the non-federal land composed of 31 square miles on the west side of the Potomac River back to Virginia. That can easily, legislatively, and constitutionally be done again to give the Maryland land back to that state.

Another remedy, one that would not involve actually giving the land back to Maryland, would be to provide statutorily that D.C. residents are residents of Maryland for VOTING purposes so that they will be included in districts that elect a representative and also both Maryland senators. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) has a bill to do, but so far no members of the majority party have signed on as cosponsors.

Any other method to address this issue will inevitably be challenged in court, calling into question the validity of any narrowly-passed legislation that a Washington, D.C., member votes on, and leaving Washington, D.C., residents in a continued state of flux over their status.

If the Norton bill is passed, it will be challenged successfully and overturned by the Supreme Court. All the money and effort to do the Constitutional end-run Del. Norton's bill would accomplish will have been for nothing and the residents will be even further back than square one. We should not recklessly push through a questionable initiative out of mere legislative "expediency."

The Congress owes it to the residents of Washington, D.C., to get it done right. In the meantime, residents should not have taxation without representation.

Use HUMAN EVENTS to contact Congress now on H.R. 1014 and H.R. 1015.

Louie Gohmert, a Republican, has represented the First Congressional District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2005.