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Update on the District of Columbia’s New Policing Law

By Miriam Edelman

This piece updates the D.C.’s Policing Bill Becomes Law After a Veto by President Joe Biden post. That prior post ended with President Biden’s veto of the Congressional resolution attempting to prevent D.C.-passed policing bill from becoming law.

Again, there was disagreement over whether the U.S. Senate could vote on the D.C. policing bill after the end of the Congressional review period. On May 16, 2023, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb responded to a May 15, 2023, letter from D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson requesting a formal opinion about the legal effect of a U.S. Senate vote disapproving D.C.’s policing bill after the end of that review period. Schwalb stated:

Pursuant to section 101(a)(2) of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia Clarification and Elected Term Amendment Act of 2010, (D.C. Law 18-160; D.C. Official Code § 1-301.81(a)(2)), and Reorganization Order 50 of 1953, as amended, it is the opinion of the D.C. Office of Attorney General that, because the 60-day period for congressional review of the Act expired on April 20, 2023, any vote of the U.S. Senate disapproving the Act would have no legal impact on the validity of the Act under the Home Rule Act.

On June 13, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives tried unsuccessfully to override President Biden’s veto of the Congressional resolution seeking to prevent D.C.’s policing bill from becoming law. The 233-197 (around 52.6 percent) vote missed the two-thirds majority that is required to override a Presidential veto (The U.S. Senate would also have needed a two-thirds majority to overrule Biden.). The majority (but not a sufficient majority to override Biden) in the U.S. House voted for H.J. Res. 42 by a vote of 233 (including 13 Democrats, 220 Republicans) Yea, 197 (including 197 Democrats and zero Republicans) Nay, zero Present, and four (including two Democrats and two Republicans) Not Voting.

Some votes then changed. On April 19, 2023, the U.S. House initially passed H.J. Res. 42 by a vote of 229 (including 14 Democrats, 229 Republicans) Yea, 189 (including 189 Democrats and zero Republicans) Nay, zero Present, and 17 (including ten Democrats and seven Republicans) Not Voting. The 13 Democrats (who tried to overrule Biden on June 13th) were 13 of the 14 Democrats who voted for this resolution on April 19th. On June 13th, that 14th Democrat did not vote.

On June 13, 2023, U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-KY) spoke on the House Floor, supporting the override attempt. He began his remarks, stating:

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I continue to support this bipartisan resolution, as a majority of my colleagues in the House did two months ago. Not much has changed since we last passed this resolution of disapproval. Since Congress sent this resolution to President Biden, we have continued to see rampant crime in the District. D.C. residents and visitors are still unsafe in their capital city.

He concluded, saying

The President’s veto of H.J.Res. 42 serves no purpose other than to continue allow crime to spread and hinder our local police from fulfilling their duties to protect the D.C. community and the nation’s capital city. I urge my colleagues to uphold what we and the Senate have done over the last two months by voting in favor of this resolution. I yield back the balance of my time.

On the U.S. House Floor, other House Members spoke. Representative Andew Garbarino (R-NY) attacked, D.C., saying “Policies like those in D.C., this deeply misguided police reform law only empowers criminals at the expense of our men and women in blue.” U.S. House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) defended the right of D.C.’s own elected officials to make decisions for D.C. residents. U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said,

This provision is why Republicans want the Congress of the United States to behave like a 535-member, nationally elected Super City Council with the power to overturn the work of the 13-member local council and the District of Columbia, elected by the actual residents of Washington, D.C

Delegate Norton (D-DC) also released a statement, most of which is

the disapproval resolution is a profoundly undemocratic and paternalistic piece of legislation. Almost 700,000 people live in the nation’s capital, and they are worthy and capable of governing their own local affairs. From their behavior this Congress, I can only surmise that House Republicans disagree with me, believing instead that D.C. residents, a majority of whom are Black and Brown, are incapable and unworthy of the same respect afforded to residents of their own districts. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how offensive that notion is to my values, goals, and more than 30 years of work advocating for D.C. residents in Congress. The President was correct in vetoing the disapproval resolution. Congress should leave all decisions about local D.C. laws to D.C. residents.

Prevent Congress from continuing to interfere with D.C.’s policing law. Theoretically, Members of Congress could introduce legislation to override that law, employing a similar tactic to what they are doing regarding D.C.’s non-citizen voting law.


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