Bill Would Make DC Residency a Must for Some Federal Officials

The District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate in Congress is asking her colleagues to pass a bill that would make residency in the nation’s capital mandatory for federal judges and prosecutors serving the area.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., speaks at a news conference on District of Columbia statehood last year. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Statehood for Washington, D.C., may remain just out of reach, but a newly introduced bill would require those who enforce federal law in the District of Columbia to live there.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, a native Washingtonian who has made D.C. statehood a key plank of her political career, is introducing the legislation known as the District of Columbia Federal Officials Residency Requirement Equality Act.

Norton described it as a critical step to ensuring the nation’s capital is “treated like the rest of the country.”

Under the legislation, federal district court judges, federal circuit court judges, the U.S. Attorney, the two U.S. Marshals and the federal court clerk who serve in D.C. would be obligated to reside within the district’s 68.34 square miles.  

Across America, but for very few exceptions, this is the standard criteria for those people filling those federal roles. The only exceptions are for the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, and those officials appointed to serve in the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of New York. This is allowed in New York because they are the only districts that serve different parts of the same city.

“These federal officials serve D.C. directly as a hometown, not as a federal jurisdiction. They should be a part of the community they serve and fully understand the unique issues facing District residents, which can only be fully realized by residing in the District,” Norton said in a statement.

She added, “Congress, through laws requiring residency in virtually every other jurisdiction, and the courts, through the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, have recognized the importance of federal officials’ connections with the communities they serve. The District should be treated no differently.”

As for residency requirements for other law enforcement roles, police associations have historically pushed back on such rules for officers, arguing that it limits the candidate pool.

A representative for the Council of the District of Columbia did not immediately return request for comment.  

D.C. has existed without statehood for 231 years and support for the movement has waxed and waned over time in Congress and among the public.

In April, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 51, which would turn the nation’s capital into a state and would also formally rename it. If passed, the District of Columbia would become Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, in honor of Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and fierce advocate for D.C. statehood in his lifetime.

It was the second time a bill proposing statehood for the district passed through the House, after a 232-180 vote last year. But with statehood opponent Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, gripping the Senate as its majority leader, the bill was dead on arrival.

Norton pushed for passage again this spring after Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer of New York, regained control of the chamber. When H.R. 51 made it out of the House this year, the final tally was a sharply divided 216-208.

The bill currently has 45 Senate co-sponsors and work is being led largely by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. The Democrat is a longtime friend and ally to President Joe Biden, who also supports D.C. statehood.

For the statehood bill to pass in the Senate, it needs all 50 Democrats plus 10 Republicans. It does not yet have the support of 50 Democrats. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are opposed, along with Angus King, an independent from Maine.

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