Last edited: February 14, 2005

Proposed Changes in The Criminal Laws of The District of Columbia

Congressional Record—Senate, September 14, 1981, 20490

Mr. THURMOND. Mr. President, on September 9, 1981, the distinguished Senator from Alabama (Mr. DENTON) introduced a resolution, Senate Resolution 207, to disapprove the recent action of the District of Columbia City Council in repealing local criminal laws against sodomy, adultery, fornication, and seduction. I commend him for that action and have joined with him as a cosponsor.

I have always been a strong advocate of local government. For that reason, I believe that only under extreme circumstances should Congress intrude into the local affairs of the District government. In this instance, however, the circumstances are extreme.

Washington is a special city. Washington is not only home for those who live in the city; it is also the Capital of our Nation and the leading city of the free world. Washington cannot be a laboratory for social experimentation, and the Congress must not allow it to become one. It is our responsibility to take whatever steps we can to prevent a clearly irresponsible action in an important area of criminal law.

If we do not act against the proposed legalization of criminal activity, we will send to the American people and to the world a signal that our moral standards have been again lowered.

I am disturbed with the action of the District Council which would decrease the penalty for rape from life to 20 years. This would mean that a convicted rapist could be out on the street again after as little as 3 or 4 years. I am amazed that some have so little respect for women and so little concern for the seriousness of the crime of rape.

Other aspects of the proposed law are equally distressing. If Congress permits the Council action to stand, then in the Capital of the United States, there would be no criminal sanctions against sodomy, bestiality, and other forms of deviant, although consensual, sexual activity involving persons over 16 years of age.

At some point, the concern we all feel for effective home rule in the District of Columbia must be outweighed by our responsibility to both the city and to the country. In this instance that point has been reached.

Some will undoubtedly argue that the City Council ordinance should be allowed to become law on the basis of respect for the power of the city government. Nevertheless, under the Home Rule Act, Congress expressly reserved the power to review and veto certain actions of the Council, notably with respect to criminal statutes. Since that reservation was one of the bases for the enactment of home rule for the District of Columbia, Congress must have anticipated occasions when it would be appropriate to utilize this reserved power.

A sweeping overhaul of criminal penalties such as that envisaged in the proposed law passed by Council is a matter which is particularly appropriate for congressional intervention. By law, the welfare of our Capital City is a matter of continuing responsibility for Congress. On that basis, I urge that the Senate promptly adopt Senate Resolution 207 and thereby disapprove the unwise and dangerous action of the District government. To do less would invite the deserved criticism of the entire country.

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