Ilham Omar became the first Somali Muslim to be elected to Congress and already the Democrat majority U.S. House is changing centuries old law to accommodate her.
Back in 1837, the U.S. House of Representatives banned the wearing of hats and headwear in the chamber in a move to establish itself as uniquely American and differentiate itself from the British Parliament.
But in 2018, with the Democrats back in control in the House, members of Congress have voted to rescind the rule in order to appease Muslims. Ilhan Omar, the newly elected Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, will be the first to wear a hijab in the chamber.
“There are those kinds of policies that oftentimes get created because people who have blind spots are in positions of influence and positions of power,” Omar told the New York Post on Thursday. “I think it will be really exciting to see the stuff that we notice within the rules that don’t work for a modern-day America.”
Under the revised rules, lawmakers will be allowed to wear religious headwear (hijabs and burkas) and coverings for medical reasons.
On September 14, 1837, the House adopted a rule stipulating that “no Member could wear a hat on the floor during a session of the House,” according to a section of the House’s webpage.
With virtually no debate, the rules were modified to read: “Every member shall remain uncovered during the sessions of the House.” The change was anticlimactic considering—as Hinds Precedents reported—that earlier proposals to ban hats were “the fruit of a considerable agitation” before 1837. In the institution’s early years, Representatives and guests in the galleries routinely donned their hats while the chamber was in session—a custom that hearkened to British Parliament. In 1822, Charles F. Mercer of Virginia proposed banning the practice. “Nor shall any Member remain in the Hall covered during the session of the House,” Mercer’s amendment read. Mercer’s proposal failed. Similar amendments went down to defeat on three other occasions when presented by different Representatives: George McDuffie of South Carolina in 1828, James K. Polk of Tennessee in 1833, and James Parker of New Jersey in 1835.
Polk’s 1833 proposal “to provide that the members should sit in the House uncovered, unless under special leave of the Speaker,” caused a lively debate. Echoing earlier objections, Father of the House Lewis Williams of North Carolina argued that if Members were “to sit without hats” they would have no place to put them (the Old House Chamber had no facilities such as the modern day cloakrooms). Other Members stressed the symbolic value of the tradition, noting that members of the British House of Commons wore hats during debate to symbolize that body’s independence from the King of England. John M. Patton of Virginia defended “the really harmless but apparently indecorous practice of wearing our hats” as a manifestation of the House’s resolute rejection of presidential meddlesomeness. “Regarding then this usage as merely ‘the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual’ freedom of this body from all executive control or interference, let us preserve it,” Patton declared on the floor. “And whenever, if ever, our executive magistrates shall attempt to employ any improper influence on this body, let us be found with our hats on.”