Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced a bill to establish a local prosecutor for Washington, D.C. on Jan. 31 as part of a larger push for autonomy in the District.
Currently, federal prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia handle criminal cases in the District. These prosecutors are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate with no input from D.C. residents. D.C. is the only current U.S. territory without a local prosecutor.
The U.S. Attorney should be focusing on prosecuting federal crimes instead of pursuing local matters, Norton said.
“A U.S. Attorney has no business prosecuting the local crimes of a jurisdiction, an out-of-date status quo that harkens to pre-home-rule D.C.,” Norton said in a Jan. 31 news release. “My bill simply gives D.C. the same authority that the states and U.S. territories enjoy as an essential element of self-government.”
In every other U.S. city, prosecutors of serious local crimes are either elected or appointed by local officials. Local crimes comprise the majority of U.S. Attorneys’ cases in D.C., according to a press release from Norton’s office.
The Office of the Attorney General has the capacity to prosecute additional adult offenses, and a local prosecutor would afford D.C. a welcome amount of autonomy, D.C.’s current Attorney General Karl A. Racine said.
“Congresswoman Norton’s proposal would give the District’s more than 700,000 residents a further measure of self-governance that we currently lack and deserve,” Racine wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The bill would implement the will of District voters in a 2002 referendum to create a local prosecutor’s office.”
In 2002 D.C. residents passed a referendum advising that the Home Rule Act should be amended to establish an Office of the District Attorney for the District of Columbia, headed by a locally elected, independent district attorney. No bill has been passed regarding a district attorney in the District since this referendum.
Norton’s bill is the latest in her “Free and Equal D.C.” series of legislation, which aims to give D.C. citizens more equality and autonomy while pursuing statehood.
As part of “Free and Equal D.C.,” Norton also introduced a bill allowing the Washington, D.C. Council to pass laws without waiting for review from Congress on Jan. 24. The bill would eliminate the congressional review periods of 30 and 60 days from civil and criminal legislation, respectively, during which Congress can pass a resolution effectively vetoing the law in question.
The 1973 D.C. Home Rule Act, which established the D.C. Council, was the last major expansion of district autonomy from the federal government.
Norton introduced H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, which would make the district the 51st state in the union, Jan. 3. The bill earned a record 155 original cosponsors, a number which has now grown to 194.
“We are gratified by the overwhelming support from my Democratic colleagues as we seize this new moment for statehood and press our bill in the 116th Congress with unprecedented momentum,” Norton told the Washington Examiner Jan 3.