Government Index
First Posted: Aug 1, 2012
Jan 20, 2020

Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC Congresswoman

Eleanor Holmes Norton Official Website

Image: Public Domain
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from District of Columbia's At-large district
Assumed office: January 3, 1991
Preceded by: Walter E. Fauntroy
6th Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
In office: 1977-1981
Preceded by: Lowell W. Perry
Succeeded by: Clarence Thomas
Personal details: Born June 13, 1937, Washington, D.C.
Political party: Democratic Spouse: Edward Norton (m. 1965, div. 1993), Residence: Washington, D.C.
Alma mater: Antioch College, Yale University, Yale Law School, Occupation: Attorney
Religion: Episcopalian

Eleanor Holmes Norton (born June 13, 1937) is a Delegate to the United States Congress representing the District of Columbia. As a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Norton may serve on committees, as well as speak on the House floor; however, she is not permitted to vote on the final passage of any legislation.

Early life and Career Accomplishments

Eleanor Holmes was born in Washington, D.C. to Coleman Holmes, a civil servant, and Vela Holmes née Lynch, a schoolteacher. She attended Antioch College (B.A. 1960), Yale University (M.A. in American Studies 1963) and Yale Law School (LL.B 1964).

While in college and graduate school, she was active in the civil rights movement and an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. By the time she graduated from Antioch, she had already been arrested for organizing and participating in sit-ins in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Ohio. While in law school, she traveled to Mississippi for the Mississippi Freedom Summer and worked with civil rights stalwarts like Medgar Evers. Her first encounter with a recently released, but physically beaten Fannie Lou Hamer forced her to bear witness to the intensity of violence and Jim Crow repression in the South. Her time with the SNCC inspired her lifelong commitment to social activism and her budding sense of feminism. In the early 1970s, Eleanor Holmes Norton was a signer of the Black Woman's Manifesto, a classic document of the Black feminist movement.

...Upon graduation from law school, she worked as a law clerk to Federal District Court Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. In 1965, she became the assistant legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, a position she held until 1970. Holmes Norton specialized in freedom of speech cases, and her work included winning a Supreme Court case on behalf of the white racist National States' Rights Party, a victory she put into perspective in an interview with one of the District of Columbia Bar's website editors: "I defended the First Amendment, and you seldom get to defend the First Amendment by defending people you like ... You don't know whether the First Amendment is alive and well until it is tested by people with despicable ideas. And I loved the idea of looking a racist in the face--remember this was a time when racism was much more alive and well than it is today—and saying, 'I am your lawyer, sir, what are you going to do about that?'" Norton worked as an adjunct assistant professor at New York University Law School from 1970 to 1971. In 1970, Mayor John Lindsay appointed her as the head of the New York City Human Rights Commission, and she held the first hearings in the country on discrimination against women.[7] Prominent feminists from throughout the country came to New York City to testify, while Norton used the platform as a means of raising public awareness about the application of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to women and sex discrimination. In 1970, Norton represented sixty female employees of Newsweek who had filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Newsweek had a policy of only allowing men to be reporters. The women won, and Newsweek agreed to allow women to be reporters.

Appointed by President Jimmy Carter as the first female Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1977, Norton released the EEOC's first set of regulations outlining what constituted sexual harassment and declaring that sexual harassment was indeed a form of sexual discrimination that violated federal civil rights laws. She has also served as a senior fellow of the Urban Institute. Norton became a professor at Georgetown University Law Center in 1982.

Norton was one of the founders of the Women's Rights Law Reporter, the first legal periodical to focus exclusively on women's rights. In 1990, Norton, along with 15 other African American women and men, formed the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom. She received a Foremother Award for her lifetime of accomplishments from the National Research Center for Women & Families in 2011.

Delegate to Congress

...Norton was elected in 1990 as a Democratic delegate to the House of Representatives, defeating city council member Betty Ann Kane in the primary despite the last-minute revelation that Norton and her husband (both lawyers) had failed to file D.C. income tax returns between 1982 and 1989. As reported in The Washington Post, this issue was resolved when she and her husband paid over $80,000 in back taxes and fines. Her campaign manager was Donna Brazile. The delegate position was open because Del. Walter Fauntroy was running for mayor rather than seeking reelection. Norton received 39 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary election, and 59 percent of the vote in the general election. Norton took office on January 3, 1991, and has been reelected every two years since. Norton is up for reelection in November 2012.

Delegates to Congress are entitled to sit in the House of Representatives and vote in committee (including the Committee of the Whole), but are not allowed to take part in legislative floor votes. The District shares this limited form of congressional representation with Puerto Rico and four other U.S. territories: Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Legislation strongly supported by Norton that would grant the District of Columbia a voting representative in the House, the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009, was passed by the United States Senate on February 26, 2009. However the legislation stalled in the House and failed to pass prior to the end of the 111th Congress.

The legislation proposed in 2009 did not grant Norton the right to vote in the 111th Congress, as she would have had to remain in her elected office of delegate for the duration of her two-year term.

In September 2010, the national press criticized Norton after the release of a voice message in which she solicits campaign funds from a lobbyist who represents a project that she oversees. Norton countered that the message was typical of appeals made by all members of Congress and that the call was made from campaign offices not paid for by taxpayers. In March 2012, the NPR radio series This American Life featured the voicemail message at the start of a program on lobbying titled "Take the Money and Run for Office."

In May 2012, Norton was blocked from testifying on an anti-abortion bill in her district -- the second time she has been blocked from speaking about abortion. She remarked, saying it was a denial of a common courtesy. Representative Jerrold Nadler also came to Norton's defense, saying "Never in my 20 years as a member of Congress have I seen a colleague treated so contemptuously."

She is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Committee Assignments

  • Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection
  • Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response
  • Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Post Office, and the District of Columbia
  • Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives
  • Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation
  • Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management
  • Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment


On July 27, 2006, Norton appeared on the "Better Know a District" segment of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, in which she spiritedly defended the District of Columbia's claim to being a part of the United States. Norton also appeared on the joint Colbert Report/Daily Show "Midterm Midtacular" special on November 7, 2006. A further interview with Stephen Colbert was conducted on March 22, 2007, and April 24, 2007 on the subject of representation in the District of Columbia. On February 12, 2008, Colbert and Norton discussed her status as a superdelegate as well as her support of Barack Obama for President. She appeared once again on February 11, 2009 to discuss D.C. representation and promised Colbert that she would make him an honorary citizen of Washington, D.C., and give him a key to the city, if D.C. citizens were given representation. Colbert in turn gave Norton a "TV promise" that he would be there should that happen.

Colbert and Norton maintain a satirical rivalry, with their interviews usually involving Colbert belittling Norton's fight for fair representation of D.C. and, in retaliation, Norton famously questioning Colbert's nationality due to the pronunciation of his surname.

Norton is a regular panelist on the PBS women's news program To the Contrary.

On June 27, 2008, Norton appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the Supreme Court's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which she strongly opposed.

For More Information:

Congress Merge
The New York Times
Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton walk out of contraception hearing

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