Amanda Ripley attempts to present a cogent analysis of the current constitutionally mandated political neutering of the District (“Con Job,” 12/25/98). I happen to believe that the District deserves some form of federal representation. A thoughtful consideration of the status quo should lead any reasonable citizen to the conclusion that the status of the District is inconsistent with the democratic principles our country purports to espouse. However, she does her argument a great disservice with two inaccurate references to the document with which she takes issue. She refers to Article III, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution as guaranteeing republican government to the various states. A cursory glance at even just the section headings, let alone the content, shows that this section does not even exist in the text of the Constitution. The actual quotation is contained in Article IV, Section 4. Article III describes the functioning of the judicial branch; Article IV details relations between the states.
The second inaccuracy occurs in the next citation. The 10th Amendment was not ratified in 1870, but rather by Virginia (the 11th state, completing the required three-fourths majority) in 1791; it was the 10th and final amendment listed in the original Bill of Rights. Furthermore, this amendment reserves unspecified powers to the province of the states or to the people, not voting rights per se, and certainly not with strictures against race, color, and servitude. (This was the exact state of existence for millions of people in the south in the late 1700s.) In the period between 1791 and 1870, five amendments were added to the Constitution. The fifth of these, the 15th Amendment, was ratified in 1870, providing that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” This amendment was a byproduct of the Civil War, and although this country should not have needed such an amendment if we had actually lived up to the high-minded language of the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble of the United States Constitution, which Ms. Ripley knows so well, it is nonetheless fixated at that place in history. The amendment should serve to remind us of the need for vigilance in both safeguarding and furthering our democratic and egalitarian institutions.
I applaud Ms. Ripley for broaching this issue. However, I urge her (and perhaps your copy editors) to peruse these items more thoroughly in the future, so as not to hinder an already tough battle against the plantation mentality of a meddling Congress with flawed arguments and inaccurate history.
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