Nullifying D.C. laws would be a historic setback for democracy

The House votes last week to disapprove D.C. local laws was reminiscent of the dismissive paternalism with which Congress treated D.C. before Home Rule. Politicians from other states don’t know more or care more about how to make D.C. safer than the nearly 700,000 people who live here and whose democratically elected officials worked closely with local law enforcement, national legal experts and community members for more than a decade to streamline and clarify our archaic, confusing criminal laws. Nor do those politicians have any basis to substitute their judgment about who should be allowed to participate in local elections.

Let’s be honest. Congressional interference in local affairs is not about an earnest desire to improve public safety or democracy in D.C. It’s political theater: hyperpartisan combatants in our divisive, national discourse seeking to score points for their next hometown election cycle. What’s more, in their rejection of the will of D.C. voters, they promote false narratives. Their contention that the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 (RCCA) is “soft on crime” — a familiar dog whistle — is demonstrably untrue. The RCCA increases the maximum sentence for many criminal offenses, including armed robbery, sexual assault and attempted murder; allows for sentencing enhancements when crimes are committed with weapons; and right-sizes penalties for certain crimes to match judicial practices. Equally important, in getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences for all crimes other than first degree murder, the RCCA recognizes that longer sentences — which disproportionately adversely impact Black and brown communities — do not make communities safer. Indeed, just the opposite.

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