It's hard to find people who substantively defend the fact that citizens of the nation's capital pay federal taxes but do not have a voting member in either house of Congress. It's the textbook definition of "taxation without representation," the injustice that helped launch the American Revolution. But Washington Times editor emeritus Wesley Pruden has tried to articulate such a defense, and in the process Pruden threw the Founding Fathers under the bus.
In an April 20 column, Pruden wrote:
Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, argues that District residents have no representation in Congress "even though we pay federal taxes, fight in wars and fulfill all other obligations of citizenship." This is of a piece with the slogan "Taxation Without Representation" written on license tags, a lie that motorists must display on their cars and trucks, like it or not. It's a lie because District residents actually have 535 representatives in the House and Senate, duty bound to look after the District of Columbia. Whether these representatives always do their duty is certainly arguable.
Well, gee, why would any resident of the District of Columbia be upset? They don't have any vote to determine who those "535 representatives in the House and Senate" are, but why should that matter? Those 535 members are "duty bound to look after the District of Columbia."
Unfortunately for Pruden, his argument could be used to defend King George III against those intemperate American colonists. In his coronation oath, King George solemnly promised "to Governe the People of this Kingdome of England and the Dominions thereto belonging according to the Statutes in Parlyament Agreed on and the Laws and Customs of the same" and "cause Law and Justice in Mercy to be Executed in all Your Judgements." So King George was duty bound to look after the colonists and execute "law and justice in mercy" in doing so.
I guess, according to Pruden, Thomas Jefferson was just plainly mistaken when he included in the Declaration of Independence the complaint that King George "has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: ... For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent."
And one final note: Pruden is also wrong when he says that because D.C. license plates bear the "Taxation Without Representation," slogan, D.C. "motorists must display [that slogan] on their cars and trucks, like it or not." In fact, in a 1977 case involving New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" license plates, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment bars states (and by extension the District of Columbia) from requiring that mottoes be displayed on license plates.
Therefore, Mr. Pruden, if you own a vehicle with D.C. license plates, feel free to show your solidarity with King George and put black tape over the "Taxation Without Representation" slogan.