Congress just bigfooted the District of Columbia’s city council by overturning its recent changes to its criminal justice law that could soften penalties for violent crimes like car-jacking, murder and rape, multiple sources reported on Thursday.
In addition to overturning the measures softening Washington, D.C.’s criminal statutes, the GOP-led U.S. House of Representatives also struck down another change in the local law that would allow non-citizens to vote.
Because D.C. is not a state but rather a district of the federal government, Congress has the authority to oversee its governance, though rarely have lawmkers nullified its laws.
In this case, Republicans saw the changes as necessary given the rising crime rate in the nation’s capital. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the council’s bills, but her veto was overturned last month.
DC statehood advocates will likely balk at Congress’ intervention. Regardless of what’s best for DC residents, Democratic Party officials have long sought statehood for the predominantly liberal city, as such status would add two more Democratic pols to the U.S. Senate.
But victims of violent crime in DC and families around the country who consider sending their school children there on Easter break are more likely to welcome the move. Disclosure: the author of this piece was twice stabbed in Washington DC.
“I’ve had many constituents and people who live in D.C. raise the issue about the safety and crime,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a member of the House Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over the district.
“It’s not an unimportant issue, I think, for the vast majority of Americans who want their capital city to be safe,” he said.
Homicides in the nation’s capital are already up 40% in just the first weeks of 2023, and local media there frequently refer to a “surge” in violent crime in recent years.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) introduced a joint resolution earlier this year condemning both the DC city council’s law changes, and Cotton called allowing illegal immigrants to vote “an insult to every American.”
42 Democrats joined House Republican, but 161 voted against overruling the district’s controversial law changes.