Last edited: February 14, 2005

Fauntroy Applauds James J. Kilpatrick

Congressional Record – Extensions of Remarks, October 20, 1981 — 24600
Hon. Walter E. Fauntroy of the District of Columbia in the House of Representatives

Mr. FAUNTROY. Mr. Speaker, I do not often agree with columnist James J. Kilpatrick: however, I was deeply moved by his commentary in the Washington Post on Monday, October 19, 1981.

The commentary is thought provoking, and I hope my colleagues will take a few minutes to read it.

When Hypocrisy Trampled Principle

(By James J. Kilpatrick)

Late on the afternoon of Oct. 1, an angry and resentful House voted 281-119 to nullify an ordinance that had been adopted in July by the District of Columbia. The vote set off a roaring hullabaloo in the press here, but the story attracted little attention elsewhere.

In common with most of the stories from our town, the House debate involved questions of law and politics. The story also involved hypocrisy, of which we have more than our fair per capita share, and it provided an example of Victor Hugo’s truism in reverse. It may be true that no army can stop an idea whose time has come, but neither can an army impose an idea whose time has not come.

As an ordinance governing sexual conduct in the capital of our nation, the time for Ordinance 4-69 plainly had not come. So the House killed it.

Curiously, the long and contentious debate scarcely touched upon the paramount law in this matter. This is the provision toward the end of Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, by which Congress is vested with the specific power "to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such district as may become the seat of government of the United States." It is among the most interesting clauses in the Constitution for this reason: it is the most absolutely unequivocal clause in our basic law. Nowhere else does one find such a phrase as "all cases whatsoever." By the Home Rule Act of 1973, Congress delegated much local authority to the D.C. council, but Congress could not possibly surrender the power and responsibility that constitutionally it holds.

There is thus no question, it seems to me, that Congress had the power to revoke the D.C. ordinance. Was the power wisely exercised?

The ordinance in question was not radically different from the sex codes that have been adopted in recent years by almost half the states. Without attempting a line-by-line analysis, it may suffice to say that the ordinance was intended to decriminalize most sexual conduct between consenting adults. Had the ordinance stopped there, the hullabaloo might not have developed, but the ordinance went further in reducing maximum penalties for forcible rape and in repealing certain criminal sanctions against sexual activity on the part of person as young as 16. Moreover, the ordinance could be read—as opponents loudly read it—as approving homosexual sodomy and tolerating public lewdness.

All this was too much for many conservatives, loosely identified with the Moral Majority, on both sides of the aisle. Here was an opportunity to stand up for virtue and to vote against sin. The opportunity was not to be lost. Virtue triumphed, but hypocrisy trampled principle underfoot.

In principle, most of the members profess dedication to democracy and majority rule. In principle, both liberals and conservatives subscribe to the view that the state should not intrude into the sexual lives of adults. These are good principles, but here they could not prevail. Politics rose above them.

The Constitution treats residents of the District of Columbia as its bastard children, whose civil rights gained nothing from their ancestors and offer nothing to posterity. To deny D.C. residents the power to govern themselves in matters of local criminal law is to deny fundamental principle. And when the House collectively rolls its eyes and deplores the repeal of a statute making adultery and fornication criminal offenses, honest men must hold their noses.

For my own part, I think the D.C. ordinance was an unfortunate act on the city council’s part. It went further than national mores will now permit. But in surrendering so abjectly to the moral mob, the House fell short of statesmanship. This was not its finest hour.

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