Granting Washington D.C. independent statehood will yield a dangerous state jurisdiction over the federal government and undermine our federalist system. The debate over giving the nation’s capitol statehood is also a matter of constitutionality, congressional representation, and the political chess game played by both parties.
Everything after the separator is the opinion of this article’s author.
Remember, let’s be polite; let’s be respectful, but most of all, let’s be outspoken.
On April 14th, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform advanced legislation to make Washington D.C. the 51st state, according to the Washington Post. The Democratic-majority committee voted on party lines to advance the legislation called H.R. 51 or the Washington, D.C. Admission Act. The House resolution can potentially be approved by the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives as early as next week.
If passed in the House, the resolution will go to the Senate, where Senate Democrats need sixty votes due to the filibuster. This means the bill requires all fifty Democratic senators and ten Republican senators to pass the bill. However, as of today, every Republican senator and six Democratic senators oppose this bill.
Consequently, if Washington D.C. does become a state, the Democrats would gain two more senators since Washington D.C. has an overwhelmingly Democratic voter base. This would make the political makeup of the Senate fifty-two Democrats and fifty Republicans, which makes 102 senators overall.
The legislative proposal to make DC a state has received strong opposition from Republicans. Twenty-two Republican Attorney Generals are threatening legal action if DC becomes a state, calling the move “unconstitutional.” The chief legal officers from states including Texas, Ohio, Nebraska, and North Dakota sent a letter to Biden and congressional leaders, arguing DC statehood would provide a power imbalance between the states.
Lastly, LC students also disapproved of DC statehood. Back in December 2020, The Outspoken Oppa conducted a poll, asking, “Should Washington D.C. Become the 51st US State?” Of the 170 LC students who responded, 81% said no, and 19% said yes. A Democrat who voted no on the poll said that DC statehood would “grant unnecessary power to the Democratic party.” Notably, this poll is one of the few polls where LC students voted in favor of a Republican position rather than a Democratic position.
The debate over DC statehood is a matter of constitutionality and its respected principles.
In Federalist No. 43, James Madison, the fourth US president and “father of the constitution,” opposed DC statehood. Madison argued that DC statehood would give a state government an “imputation of awe or influence” over the federal government. Essentially, Madison believed that there must be a federal district that is separate from the authority of any specific state so that the federal, not state government, would control “the seat of government.” Since DC is home to Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, and various other federal institutions, granting statehood would be unfair and problematic because all of this would fall under the guise of an independent state government.
Roger Pilon, the Vice President for Legal Affairs for the Cato Institute, echoed this point in a 2016 article, where he called the DC statehood effort a “Fool’s Errand.” In the article, he describes the danger of a federal government depending on a state government. He explains, “We needed a ‘federal district’, separate and apart from the territory and authority of any one of the states, so that Congress could exercise ‘exclusive’ jurisdiction over that district, thus keeping the federal government from being dependent on any particular state—and, equally important, so that no state would be either dependent on the federal government or disproportionately influential on that government.”
Similarly, Robert F. Kennedy, the Democratic Attorney General under President JFK, agreed with this assertion when he said in a ruling, “It was indispensably necessary to the independence and the very existence of the new Federal Government to have a seat of government which was not subject to the jurisdiction or control of any State.” Since then, six decades later, nearly every single Attorney General has made a similar ruling.
While the Washington, D.C. Admission Act does make exclusions about state jurisdiction, when it comes to those federal institutions, the act still does not account for the various necessary industries that the state government would have jurisdiction over providing to the federal government.
If DC becomes a state, then the federal government would have to rely on Democratically-controlled state jurisdiction for local law enforcement, firefighting, electrical power, sewers, hospitality, protection to extend to foreign embassies, roads, water systems, and other essential industries, all of which Congress has ultimate authority over right now though an integrated jurisdiction. Even though there are exceptions to state jurisdiction in the proposed bill, the legislation still fails to recognize the inevitable dependency of a federal enclave on the surrounding state government.
Additionally, this looks more like a partisan power grab than a fight for congressional representation. According to the D.C. Board of Elections March 2021 monthly report, 76.37% of registered voters in D.C. are Democrats, 5.66% are Republicans, and the rest are third-party members. Needless to say, if DC were to become a state, its two senators, governor, and entire state government will undeniably be Democratic. This should be concerning to not just Republicans but to anyone that recognizes the danger of a one-party supermajority state that exercises state jurisdiction over the federal government.
Not only does DC statehood violate the constitutional principles and the Founding Fathers’ intentions, but it also violates the constitution itself.
Roger Pilon further argued that Congress does not have the authority to make DC a state, “The proposal’s constitutional problems don’t end with that text and its implications, however. In fact, they go to a core constitutional principle, the doctrine of enumerated powers, which holds that Congress has only those powers that are enumerated in the Constitution, mainly in Article I, section 8. And Congress has no power to carve out a fifty-first state from the present District of Columbia.” Therefore, to change the status of DC, there has to be a constitutional amendment, not a bill passed in Congress.
Moreover, R. Hewitt Pate, the former Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, argued DC statehood would violate the 23rd amendment. Ratified in 1961, the amendment granted DC residents the right to vote for the president and vice president. It also establishes the same electoral votes as the state with the smallest population regardless of DC’s future state population. Currently, DC has three electoral votes.
Given this fact, Pate argues that the 23rd amendment would have to be repealed to grant DC statehood. If the amendment is not repealed, Pate says DC would have ultimate control over their three electoral votes, which does not grant equal representation across all states.
Pate believes that the passage of DC statehood would lead to unfair representation in the electoral college, “Finally, the 23rd Amendment problem under the shrinkage plan becomes perhaps even more disturbing. Without a constitutional amendment repealing the 23rd Amendment, the literal handful of residents in the shrunken “District constituting the seat of government” would control their own three electoral votes. For those who depict statehood as a matter of “fair representation,” this is a little embarrassing.”
Therefore, proponents of the bill who argue that DC statehood would grant congressional representation to the 712,000 DC residents would have to address this problem. Provided, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act right now advocates for a “joint resolution repealing the Twenty-third Amendment to the Constitution,” which would require two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of state legislators. Since repealing such an amendment is incredibly difficult, the bill advocating for DC statehood cannot and will not pass.
On a side note, a popular counterargument to DC statehood is retroceding the nation’s capital into Maryland, which would allow DC residents to be represented by Maryland’s state government and two senators. However, in my opinion, this would only yield the same problem of state jurisdiction over a federal government.
However, DC residents’ lack of congressional representation is a worthwhile concern. The Founding Fathers especially shared this concern during the federal government’s creation. Namely, Alexander Hamilton, the first US Treasury Secretary and a Founding Father believed that DC should have representation in the House but not the Senate. Yet, Madison believed that the DC residents would “find sufficient inducement of interest to become willing parties to the cession” from their local government.
Needless to say, the debate is fairly complicated, and its resolution will require broad national agreement from both sides of the political aisle. While there is the problem of a lack of congressional representation for DC residents, I fundamentally agree with the conclusion of a Wall Street Journal opinion article, “The District of Columbia has always been an imperfect solution to a constitutional problem.”
If Democrats want Republican support for DC statehood, then they must solve the inherent problem of a state government having jurisdiction over the federal government. Given Democrats have yet to offer that solution and lack the necessary bipartisan support, DC will most likely never become a state, which is evidently good for the nation.
Remember, let’s be polite; let’s be respectful, but most of all, let’s be outspoken.