Norton Silenced at Congressional Hearing

Delegate, locals denied right to testify

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Wednesday, Feb 9, 2011  |  Updated 12:16 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 08: Demonstrators who support a woman's right to choose abortion stand in silence during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill February 8, 2011 in Washington, DC. The demonstrators were escorted by police out of the hearing about H.R.3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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The Great Silencing continues.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” Tuesday. Section 310 of the bill would prohibit the District of Columbia from spending even local tax dollars to provide abortions for low-income residents. Therefore, and quite reasonably, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton wanted the chance to testify.

Subcommittee Chairman Trent Franks, who represents an Arizona district 2,000 miles from D.C., said no.

Franks said no despite the fact that the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, had submitted Norton’s request to give testimony in advance, and despite the fact that members of Congress are routinely permitted to testify at any hearing they please.

Norton said, “Not only do Republicans seek to trample on D.C.’s rights as a self-governing jurisdiction, they apparently seek to trample on my right as a member of Congress to participate in the legislative process by giving testimony on a bill that directly affects the District.”

In fact, no D.C. residents were allowed to testify, and that drew a protest organized by D.C. Vote. Fourteen District voting rights advocates made a silent protest during the hearing, standing up with gags across their mouths, and wearing “No Taxation Without Representation” T-shirts. Franks told them to sit down. When they did not, they were removed by Capitol Police officers, though none were formally arrested or charged.

The sponsors of the bill have not specifically addressed the controversy over Section 310. Last month, lead sponsor Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey said, “Our new bill is designed to permanently end any U.S. government financial support for abortion whether it be direct funding or by tax credits or any other subsidy.”

Because local D.C. expenditures are subject to congressional approval, residents’ District taxes -- not just their federal ones -- would be subject to the prohibition. The National Abortion Rights Action League says the measure would ban the District from using “its own local funds for abortion for low-income women,” and critics say the bill flies in the face of the GOP’s purported commitment to returning local and state governments to a position of primacy.

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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