D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, long among the most prominent advocates for statehood, reached out to the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committee, seeking control of D.C. National Guard.
Norton, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Anthony Brown (D-Maryland) penned a letter to the committee noting that Presidential control over D.C. National Guard “creates a loophole by which a President can evade the Posse Comitatus Act, limiting the military’s involvement in civilian law enforcement.”
In the April 12 letter, Norton said D.C. National Guard Home Rule Act would be a historic transfer of self-government powers to D.C. that Congress began with the passage of D.C. Home Rule Act in 1973, when it delegated most of its authority over D.C. matters to an elected mayor and Council.
“D.C. should have the same control over its local affairs as states and territories,” Norton said, adding that the D.C. Guard would face deployment only for natural disasters and restore order following civil disturbances.
“The mayor, who knows D.C. better than any federal official and who works closely with federal security officials, should be able to deploy D.C. National Guard for natural disasters and local civil disturbances,” Norton wrote.
She said that in the event of a large-scale attack on a federal facility like the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a mayor who controlled D.C. National Guard “would almost certainly immediately deploy D.C. National Guard to protect the facility.”
“However, in the unlikely event that a D.C. mayor did not deploy D.C. National Guard, the President, would have the authority to federalize and deploy D.C. National Guard to do so,” she said. “This is no different than the division of authority between a governor and President in the event of a large-scale attack on a federal facility in a state or territory today.”
Norton and her colleagues have asked the committee to include the change in the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
D.C. National Guard Home Rule Act passed the House as part of the fiscal year 2022 NDAA, but Republicans blocked it in the Senate.
“I have long introduced the National Guard Home Rule Act, which took on new importance on Jan. 6,” Norton said. “Deployment of D.C. National Guard was delayed by several hours that day, likely costing lives. Therefore, it is critically important for the District to include my bill in the fiscal year 2023 NDAA.”
Van Hollen added that “On Jan. 6, as our democracy was under attack by insurrectionists, D.C. officials were unable to immediately mobilize the National Guard because the Trump Administration took hours to approve their deployment.”
“It’s clear that the District must have complete authority over its National Guard to protect its own safety and security and that of our capital. I’m pushing, alongside my colleagues, to include this critical legislation in the FY23 defense bill,” he said.
As a former governor, Carper said he understood how critical it is for states and territories to have the ability to call on the National Guard.
“But when emergencies arise in the District of Columbia, the mayor has to wait for help because D.C. does not have control over its own National Guard,” Carper said.
Recent threats to public safety illustrate why it’s critical for senior elected officials, like the D.C. mayor, to have authority over the Guard, Brown added.
“Whether it’s the over militarized response to the Black Lives Matter protests or the delays we saw in responding to the January 6th insurrection, it’s clear that the current command structure of the D.C. Guard is failing residents and our own national security,” Brown said. “We need to ensure that we’re ready to respond swiftly to protect lives and our democracy when emergencies arise.”