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Fourteen senators voting no
Two votes, more than 25 years apart. From DOMA to today.
On Wednesday, the Senate took its vote on disapproval of the D.C. criminal code revisions. Thirty-three Democrats (or Democratic-caucusing independents) joined every Republican present to ignore the D.C. government and support Republican fear-mongering around crime. (Of course, they did so with the eager support of some reporters and media outlets.)
President Biden will sign the measure, as I discussed previously, and for the first time since 1991, an act of D.C. Council will be disapproved by the federal government.
This failure of Democrats to stand by their principles — either in favor of D.C. statehood or in favor of addressing problems in our criminal legal system — is stark.
Many heroes of the left — including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is up for re-election in 2024 — voted in favor of the disapproval resolution. Not a single senator from New York or California voted against the resolution. (Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Alex Padilla, and Chuck Schumer all voted yes; Sen. Dianne Feinstein was not present, having been hospitalized with shingles.)
Only 14 Democrats voted no.
It was, for the second time in my life, a moment when a list of 14 Democrats has struck me as an important vote — and will stay with me.
The first time was a vote taken more than 25 years ago, as Senate Democrats similarly faced an onslaught of distorted fear-mongering from Republicans that had no basis in fact. They also had a Democratic president in the White House who already had said he would sign the measure in question if passed.
Then, the measure at issue was the Defense of Marriage Act.
On Sept. 10, 1996, the Senate voted 85-14 to pass the bill, which purported to allow states not to recognize marriages of same-sex couples from other states and barred federal recognition of those marriages. (The bill was passed, and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton, when no states allowed same-sex couples to marry.)
As with this week, a majority of Democrats voted for DOMA, including progressive heroes like then-Sen. Paul Wellstone. The list of no votes back in 1996 was short, but important.
It took 17 years for DOMA’s federal recognition ban to be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor. It was only this past fall that Congress formally repealed DOMA with its passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which Biden himself signed into law.
On Thursday, another 14 Senate Democrats, echoing that earlier moment, stood by their principles and cast a no vote. This week, it was for D.C. autonomy and in favor of efforts to improve our criminal legal system.
With the 81-14 vote, D.C.’s long-negotiated and much-needed effort to modernize its criminal code will now be scrapped. (At least this iteration of it.) And Democrats have let it be known that their earlier support for D.C. statehood only includes conditional support in the meantime for D.C.’s autonomy.
The two votes — and their effects — are very different, to be sure.
And yet, with 26 years separating them, the votes show that Democratic leaders — up to the White House occupant — still allow themselves to be taken in by Republican efforts to create politicized fear that is then followed up with real-world consequences.
But, as with that earlier vote, a minority of the party has also put down a marker — and cast a principled vote — that should not be forgotten.
Law Dork with Chris Geidner is independent, reader-supported legal and political journalism that seeks to hold government and other public officials accountable. Support this reporting by becoming a free or paid subscriber today.
MUST-READ: Madison Pauly at Mother Jones published a big report — with lots of emails — detailing the path of anti-trans legislation and the people and groups behind it.
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