Introduction of the District of Columbia Courts Home Rule Act

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 13, 2021
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. NORTON. Madam Speaker, today, I introduce the District of Columbia Courts Home Rule Act. This bill would give the Council of the District of Columbia authority over the jurisdiction and organization of the local D.C. courts. The D.C. Home Rule Act (HRA) expressly prohibits the Council from enacting any law with respect to any provision of the D.C. Code title that relates to the local D.C. courts. Congress can correct this injustice to the District's federal taxpaying residents by amending the HRA, even before the District becomes the 51st state.

Forty-eight years after passage of the HRA, matters involving the local D.C. courts almost never come to Congress, so Congress knows virtually nothing about the District's local courts--and could not care less. Notwithstanding the importance of D.C. 's local courts to District residents, the D.C. Council, which is the repository of knowledge and experience for the District's criminal and civil justice systems and the body accountable to our residents, is irresponsibly left on the sidelines while Congress remains the sole entity that may correct flaws in the District's local courts.

Under the HRA, the 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).'' Matters in title 11 are limited primarily to the rules of criminal and civil procedure, court administration, the branches of the courts, the rules of jury service and admission to the bar. Our bill would strike this limitation on the Council's authority.

The District has never had authority over its local courts, even when it was responsible for paying for their operations. Under the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997, the federal government assumed the costs for several state-level functions, including the courts because the federal government alone has jurisdiction over the courts. This bill would not change the courts' funding. This bill also would not change 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 modem local court system in 1970.

This bill is an important step to increase democratic self-government for the District. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.