- Delegate to the House of Representatives from Washington, D.C.
- Member of the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus
- Outspoken opponent of school vouchers
- Biggest political contributors include teachers’ unions and other government employee unions
- Evaded paying D.C. income taxes for eight years just prior to her election to Congress
Eleanor Holmes Norton was born on June 13, 1937 to Coleman Holmes and Vela Lynch in the District of Columbia. Her father was a civil servant with the D.C. housing department and her mother was a schoolteacher.
In 1955 Norton began attending Antioch College in southwest Ohio. "Antioch pushed me, allowed me to push toward my more radical self, the part that was already very skeptical about middle-class values," Norton is quoted as saying in her authorized biography Fire in My Soul (2003). During her college years, Norton headed Antioch's chapter of the NAACP and became a local activist working to desegregate theaters and other public accommodations. After graduating in 1960, she enrolled at Yale University, where she went on to earn an M.A. in American Studies (1963) and a Bachelor of Law degree (1964).
In the summer of 1963, Norton went to Mississippi to work as an organizer for the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She also helped organize Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington in August of that year. "I was radicalized by the civil rights movement," Norton would tell an interviewer many years later.
In 1964 Norton moved to Philadelphia to work as law clerk for a Federal District Court judge (1964-65) and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar as an attorney in 1965. That same year, she became assistant legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union's New York office, where she worked until 1970. In 1965 she met and married Edward Norton, and in 1968 she was admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1970 Mayor John Lindsay appointed Norton as chairwoman of New York City's Commission on Human Rights, a position she held until 1977. Norton also served as Lindsay's executive assistant from 1971-74.
In 1977, newly elected Democratic President Jimmy Carter appointed Norton to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she worked until 1981.
From 1981-82, Norton served as a fellow at the Urban Institute. The following year, she was hired as a law professor at Georgetown University, a post she has held ever since.
In 1988 Jesse Jackson selected Norton as his representative in shaping the platform at the Democratic National Convention. At the time, Ebony magazine described Norton as a "national Democratic Party power broker."
In 1990 the District of Columbia's non-voting Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, Walter Fauntroy, resigned to run (unsuccessfully) for city mayor. Norton narrowly won the Democratic primary race to replace Fauntroy, and then won the Delegate seat in the general election by a wide margin. She has been re-elected every two years since then, always by wide margins.
During Norton's 1990 political campaign, it came to light that she and her husband had paid no D.C. income taxes since 1981. Norton placed the blame for this entirely on her spouse. After her election, she divorced him in 1993 and took custody of the couple's son and daughter.
The District of Columbia, as the hub of U.S. government, was originally designed to have no seats of its own in Congress, and to be run by the Congress itself. But because DC residents invariably vote heavily Democratic, Norton and fellow Democrats have long proposed granting statehood to the District -- a move that would add one Democratic Member to the House of Representatives and two Democratic Senators to the national legislature. Norton contends that because the people of DC currently have no voting representation in Congress, they should not be required to pay any federal taxes.
In 1993, during a brief period when Democrats controlled the White House via President Bill Clinton and both houses of Congress, Norton spearheaded a measure that gave her and the four Delegates from U.S. territories (all Democrats) voting power on most legislation in the House of Representative. She accomplished this by parlaying a measure by which Delegates could vote "in Committees," into voting power for herself in "the Committee of the Whole" -- a parliamentary mode in which the entire House of Representatives can pass legislation. This unconstitutional power grab was repealed in 1995 after Republicans won control of both houses of Congress.
Norton advocates stronger gun-control laws and a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty.
Every year since 1994, she has introduced the Nuclear Disarmament and Economic Conversion Act, which would require the United States to "begin the transfer of nuclear weapons funds to urgent domestic needs."
Contrary to the wishes of a large majority of black parents in the District of Columbia, Norton has been an outspoken opponent of school vouchers, which would enable many parents to move their children out of DC's dreadful public-education system and into private schools. Heavily influencing Norton’s position is the fact that two of her largest campaign contributors are the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, both of which strongly oppose vouchers.
In July 2009, Norton publicly suggested that most of the weapons in the hands of Mexico's violent drug cartels had been obtained from sources inside the U.S. Stating that this was "extremely embarrassing," Norton said that if she herself were were Mexican, she "would have been very, very angry at the Big Kahuna in the north that was essentially shipping down arms to kill my people.” Contrary to Norton's assertion, however, studies have shown that only 17 percent of all guns recovered from Mexican crime scenes can actually be traced to America.
In November 2009, Norton blamed Republican lawmakers for the high rate of HIV/AIDS in Washington, DC, because they objected to government funding for needle-exchange programs.
During a June 2013 appearance on the PBS program To the Contrary, Norton said: "[W]hen Texas goes full blown -- the Republicans better have it good now because they are not long for this world.” When host Bonnie Erbé asked her to elaborate, Holmes said that "the growth of the Hispanic population is going to mean the end of this section of this – this southern section white party of old men, and they know it."
Norton is a member of the the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She is also a former board member of the Rockefeller Foundation.