Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced today she has introduced the District of Columbia Courts Home Rule Act, which would give the Council of the District of Columbia authority over the jurisdiction and organization of the local D.C. courts. The 1973 Home Rule Act expressly prohibits D.C. from enacting any law with respect to any provision of the D.C. Code that relates to the local jurisdiction and organization of the D.C. courts. Congress can correct this provision by amending the Home Rule Act, even before the District becomes the 51st state.
This is the third bill Norton has introduced this Congress to improve the local D.C. courts, including a bill to expedite appointments for local D.C. judges and a bill to ban discrimination against LGBTQ jurors in the local D.C. courts.
“Forty-six years after passage of the Home Rule Act, matters involving the D.C. courts almost never come to Congress, and Congress knows virtually nothing about the District’s courts – and could not care less,” Norton said. “The District has never had authority over its local courts, even when it was responsible for paying for their operations. As the duly-elected and accountable government of the District, the D.C. Council is irresponsibly left on the sidelines while Congress remains the entity charged with correcting flaws in the local D.C. courts. My bill would correct this wrong and increase democratic self-government for the District.”
Under the Home Rule Act, the D.C. Council has no authority to “enact any act, resolution, or rule with respect to any provision of title 11 of the District of Columbia Code (relating to organization and jurisdiction of the District of Columbia courts).”
In 1997, under the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act, the federal government assumed the costs for several state-level functions (including the courts, over which it has always had sole jurisdiction). This bill would not affect the authority of the President to nominate, or the Senate to confirm, local D.C. judges, which has been within their purview since the creation of the District’s modern local court system in 1970.