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Supreme Court rejects rights for the District
(Published October 23, 2000)
By OSCAR ABEYTA
D.C. residents hoping to get a voice in Congress have lost a major battle before the U.S. Supreme Court, while another group of residents is preparing to go to trial on disruption of Congress charges for vocally protesting the District’s lack of voting representation there earlier this year.
The Supreme Court on Oct. 16 upheld the decision issued by a panel of three U.S. District Court judges in two widely publicized lawsuits that unsuccessfully sought voting representation in Congress for D.C. residents or the option of choosing statehood or retrocession to Maryland to gain full citizenship rights. In an 8-1 vote, the high court affirmed the lower court’s decision without hearing arguments in the consolidated cases.
The court’s vote drew criticism from activists and politicians in the city and a vow from Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to pursue voting rights in the political arena.
The two lawsuits — Alexander vs. Daly and Adams vs. Clinton — were filed separately in early 1998, but the judges consolidated them that November. Original arguments were heard in April 1999 and the judges issued their ruling denying the merits of the cases this past spring.
Meanwhile, the trial of seven D.C. citizens who disrupted Congress earlier this year in a protest aimed at pointing out that the District has no voice in the national body tried to resume Oct. 16 but stalled yet again.
Because the Million Family March was held that same day, participants reported an unusually low juror turnout that day, making it impossible to seat a jury for the trial. One participant said the judge even had a difficult time getting a court reporter to record the proceedings. Jury selection was rescheduled for Oct. 24.
Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby denied a motion by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, that would have banned the defendants from speaking about statehood or voting rights for the District. Prosecutors had argued that allowing defendants to speak about the political underpinnings of their alleged crimes would bias a jury made up of D.C. residents, making conviction nearly impossible.
The seven defendants — Karen Szulgit, Debby Hanrahan, Steve Donkin, Queen Mother ShemaYah, Tanya Snyder, Martin Thomas and Bette Hoover — were arrested July 26 in the House of Representatives visitors’ gallery after yelling "D.C. votes No! Free D.C.!" during the house floor debate on the District’s budget bill.
Szulgit, along with fellow activist Anise Jenkins, was arrested last year and charged with the same crime for a similar incident. Both were acquitted.