A Supreme Court case for D.C.

I wrote last week about the federal court decision against the city’s no-gun laws, saying that “for your outrage’s worth, this latest affront to the District’s strict gun ban is a bit of a disappointment … [It’s] not nearly as upsetting as, say, a senator introducing ban-repealing legislation on behalf of his patrons in the NRA.” Same went for the House of Representatives.

Kablam! Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) was reading. On March 22 he and a few colleagues offered a motion to recommit the D.C. voting rights bill with instructions to add a repeal of the District’s gun ban. The ploy forced Democrats to pull the bill. Now we’re getting our outrage’s worth! Thank you, Lamar.

Former Republican congressman and vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp emerged from the Cannon House office building on that sunny day and strode toward Mayor Adrian Fenty. “I’m sorry,” he said, shaking Fenty’s hand amid a gaggle of reporters. “My party is throwing up procedural roadblocks.” He soon added his refrain for the afternoon: “The Republican Party is going to find itself on the wrong side of history.”

“I think it’s gonna backfire,” Fenty later said with accidental dry wit.

It already had been something of a gloomy week for vote-eager D.C. residents. The White House had been making noises about constitutional concerns and a presidential veto. (The first clue to George W. Bush’s opposition to District voting rights, of course, came when he removed the “Taxation Without Representation” plates from his inaugural limo.)

To counter constitutional objections to the bill, supporters cite favorable arguments by certain “eminent Constitution scholars,” namely Kenneth Starr and Viet Dinh. Starr argued in a co-written Sep. 17 Washington Post op-ed that the general principles of the Constitution and specifically the “District clause” give Congress the authority to take a feeble step toward representative Democracy by passing the D.C. voting rights bill. The bill gives a House vote to the Democratic District and an additional seat to Republican Utah.

The Constitution’s District clause states, “Congress shall have power … to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District. Proponents say this trumps the bit about how the House “shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states,” which would seem to exclude the District. According to naysayers, you have to amend the Constitution or make the District a state to fix this problem — two things that will never, ever happen.

Even if the Starr argument is wrong, Jack Kemp made the point that his case is strong enough that the legislation should pass and a veto would be inappropriate; the matter should be decided by the Supreme Court.

After all, Starr has a knack for winding up there. He was at the Supreme Court just the other day, joining forces with the Bush administration and an Alaskan school district in the war against some kid who made a “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” sign.
Perhaps the administration can take a moment from its trembling fury at those darn kids and their bongs to give representative democracy a chance.

Man-bites-dog rules

This month the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation introduced new rules for dog parks, and if you read the news, then you know that these rules have residents hot under the collar, howling mad and foaming at the mouth! Woof! 

But seriously: For at least one man, the dog-park regulations cut to the heart of city life and politics.

Northeast Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bill Schultheiss recalls his pre-dog days in the District. Two years ago, his house was burglarized three times in the span of three weeks. He and his wife had installed an alarm system, but all it did was make a lot of noise while failing to prevent the break-ins.

“Get a dog,” Schultheiss recalled the police telling him. So he bought a Rottweiler mutt named Veda, and he and his wife haven’t had a burglary incident since.

Out and about with Veda, Schultheiss began to meet his neighbors and learn more about the neighborhood. At dog-friendly locales like Lincoln Park, un-tethered mutts and humans can sniff out new friendships and get to know each other better.
There’s just one problem: It’s all illegal. The District has a strict leash law requiring dogs to be on-leash in public at all times.

So Schultheiss ran for a seat on the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, making dog-park regulation a key campaign issue. He also co-founded Hill Hounds, a community group advocating legal dog parks.

Schultheiss says the approach actually represents one side of a massive political rift in the dog-walking community. The other half would prefer to continue breaking the law by letting dogs run free at de facto doggie areas and hope the police don’t start issuing tickets. (Interestingly, this kind of strategic disagreement is similar to the one facing D.C.’s gay community, which is pondering whether it’s better to risk infuriating Congress by advocating for full-fledged legal gay marriage or to continue accruing legal benefits in a quiet march toward de facto civil unions.)

The Department of Parks and Recreation released its rules largely as the result of years of lobbying by DCDOG, a Northwest dog-park advocacy organization similar to Hill Hounds. Sadly, the rules the government came up with suggest the scofflaw dog community might have had the better approach.

The new regulations would make it virtually impossible to set up dog parks. One rule stipulates that a five-block radius of any dog park be 100 percent rat-free. That’s doggone impossible!

Another problem is that the rules say dog parks can only be created on District-owned parkland. On the Hill, most of the parks belong to the National Park Service.

“We have a relationship with the National Park Service where they own the land but the local jurisdiction is responsible for the maintenance of the park,” D.C. Parks and Rec spokeswoman Regina Williams said. “We can’t make decisions on whether National Park Service land can become a dog park.”

So even if dog owners get the rules they want, and then they get enough support for an enclosed dog space at Lincoln Park, Stanton Park, Marion Park or Folger Park — places on Capitol Hill where you see unleashed canines all the time — the federal government would be under no obligation to comply. Not even District pets are free from the brutal tyranny of the Federal Government!  

Schultheiss and others recently attended a hearing at which the District was given an earful for its bogus proposed dog-park laws. “They were made to look like fools,” Schultheiss said. “I felt bad for them.”