Statehood for DC?

Inspired by the discussion of the Puerto Rico statehood referendum, I’ve been thinking about the other perennial statehood issue: the District of Columbia.

On one hand, it seems absurd that the residents of our nation’s capitol don’t have representation in congress, but can you really say that DC deserves to be a state? I have to say no, for 2 reasons.

#1: Area-wise, DC is tiny, about 60 mi[sup]2[/sup]. Even puny little Rhode Island is 20x larger. It would literally be a city-state.

#2: Population-wise, DC doesn’t fair much better. Back in the day, it had over a million people, but these days its population is just over 600,000. The only state it would beat out is Wyoming (with a population a little under 600,000).

What do you think? Does DC deserve to be a state? I wonder if the best solution might be a compromise of sorts: Give DC representation in the House, but no senators. This recognizes DC’s population, but also conceeds that it’s just too small to be a state.

As a Washingtonian, I believe that residents are entitled to voting rights within Congress, but I am would support representation short of statehood, because I believe that approach might not require a constitutional amendment.

It is an open question as to whether voting rights for DC even requires an amendment to the constitution. The American Bar Association and legal scholars including Ken Starr (yes, of Clinton report fame) have argued that Congress already has the power to give DC representatives in Congress.

Supporters of this approach have also argued that the framers of the Constitution never intended to disenfranshise the residents of DC and there is strong evidence that this is the case

The same constitutional authority was exercised by the very first Congress, in 1790, when Congress accepted the cession by Maryland and Virginia of the ten-mile-square area constituting the District and provided by statute that its residents would continue to enjoy the same legal rights - - including rights to vote in federal and state elections - - which they had possessed under Maryland and Virginia laws prior to acceptance by Congress of the cession (Act of July 16,
1790, chapter 28, section 1, 1 Stat. 130). Under this federal legislation, residents of the District were able to vote, from 1790 through 1800, for members of the United States House of Representatives (and for members of the Maryland and Virginia Legislatures, which then elected United States Senators).

On the issue of voting rights for DC, there is a lot of accepted wisdom that is not based on fact, but has built up over the years. I think when people are arguing for such a radical approach as to disenfranchise Ameican citizens, the burden should be on them to prove that a) this was the intent of the framers of the Consitution; and b) there is a compelling reason to do so.

Other sources:…_one-pager.pdf

Absolutely not. No state smaller than Rhode Island may enter the union. It’s a deal we made to ratify the constitution. We don’t have much. Take away our right to be the smallest state and we’ll be no better than Delaware.

As a practical matter, statehood isn’t likely for either Puerto Rico or DC- Puerto Rico because the people of Puerto Rico themselves aren’t sure they want it, and DC because the Republicans wouldn’t support another state with 2 automatic liberal Democrat Senators.

Some kind of compromise is all DC can hope for- starting with a Congresssperson who has ALL the powers and duties of a regular Congressperson. After that, DC could be treated as a district of Maryland or Virginia for purposes of electing Senators. The Dems would push for Virginia (which sometimes goes Republican statewide) while the GOP would prefer Maryland (which already elects two liberal Democrats almost every time). I myself have no preference.

Well, Maryland would make more sense, as that’s the side of the Potomac that DC is on.

I have always thought that the best solution is to shrink the “D.C” part down to a token area. Mall area, White House, etc. (This already happened once when the Virginia side was given up.) Maryland gets the non-D.C. part. Washington remains a city but within Maryland except for the federal zone.

No constitutional amendment is needed (except to eliminate the electoral vote for the stub).

The fly in this ointment that I have heard is that Maryland doesn’t want Washington. It’s sort of a basket-case city. Plus the Republicans in Maryland don’t want a surge of Democratic voters for state-wide offices.

So much for simplicity.

I’m not really convinced, but in the thread on the recent Puerto Rican referendum it’s mentioned that this could be the time for statehood. The Republicans may not fight too hard against it to avoid further alienation of Hispanics as a voting bloc. I don’t think the referendum is clear, but maybe it’s the time for Puerto Rico to go for statehood.

One proposed solution has been to give back the parts of DC outside of the central federal zone to Maryland and Virginia. I think DC residents don’t like this idea because they feel it will dilute their voting strength, but it would free them from the dependence on the federal government that won’t go away with statehood.

Can I get a cite for MD not wanting DC? It is one of the wealthiest communities in the country. Also, why is it better to incorporate DC into MD rather than give DC it’s own representation? Should we also return W VA to VA for simplicity’s sake?

As far as I can tell, the US is unusual among federal nations with a separate Federal Capital District/Territory (e.g. USA, Brazil, Australia, Mexico…) in having it be ineligible for any voting representation in the national legislature. They either use equal standing with the other federal components or a special provision.

Promoting the DC Congresswoman to full voting rank (merely 1 out of 435) could be a compromise but you’d need 39 state legislatures to sign off on the Amendment.

Once again, there does not seem to be a need to amend the constitution to provide DC with voting rights. According to the American Bar Association:

Those of you who are insisting that it would require an amendment, what are you basing this opinion on?

Also, for those who are proposing that DC be folded into an existing state, I’d like to know why this is a more desirable approach and how it is more constitutional than the proposal put forward by the ABA.

Ultimately, I believe that it is in the interest of the republic for as many citizens to be enfranchised as possible and absent a compelling reason, no citizen should be disenfranchised. Those of you who disagree that DC citizens deserve congressional representation, what is the basis for your position to keep certain Americans disenfranchised?

“The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States”

Lord Feldon, can you please explain why you disagree with the American Bar Association’s interpretation of Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution? As I noted earlier, there is no evidence that the founders intended to disenfranchise the residents of DC and some evidence that it was an accident they later tried to rectify when the city was founded.

Further, what is gained by not enfranchising the residents of DC? What public good is acheived? If there is none, then I would argue that the nation would be better served by erring on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion when it comes to enfranchising American citizens.

Forgive me for butting in as a non-American, but is there any weight to the argument that as the government (and hence all those involved in it) are based in D.C., there is no need for separate representation as the government will act in D.C.'s best interests anyway, seeing as they have to live and work there? Sure, that doesn’t help enfranchise all those who live in D.C. and are not involved in government, but is it even a reasonable argument?

  1. Giving such a small population it’s own 2 Senators and ensuing increase in electoral votes (as the statehood case of the OP) is unfair, IMO. Things are already messed up with small states having too much power as it is.

  2. WVa voters are already fully enfranchised, in case you hadn’t noticed! The question is how to increase the citizen rights of D.C. residents to make them more in line with other US citizens.

I’m not sure there’s been a scientific survey on this, but I would bet five grand that the substantial majority of senior political officials who work in Washington actually live in the suburbs, primarily in Virginia but also Maryland.

There’s also a lengthy track record of discord between the views of DC residents and leaders from other parts of the country on many issues. For example, there is very strong support for DC using its own funds (raised by local sales and income taxes) to subsidize abortions. There have been numerous attempts in Congress to reverse that policy.

In short, imagine that in your town, you had two city councils: one elected by the residents of your town, and one elected by people hundreds or thousands of miles away that could overrule your local politicians if they wished, on issues that are clearly not Federal in nature. Would you be satisfied with that arrangement?

I’d say no, that isn’t a reasonable argument. Members of Congress live and work in a relatively small area of DC (and some even have their residences in Virgina). They have no contact with the economically depressed areas of the city (though rapidly gentrifying) and don’t act in the interest of the people who live there. Case in point is the efforts of the national Republican Party to loosen gun laws in the District of Columbia despite the fact that most residents are in favor of gun control.

I am not Lord Feldon, but I think he has already given his/the only answer: the membership of the House of Representatives is defined in Article I, Section 2. They are elected by the people of the States.

The Section 8 clause you mention gives Congress the power to make law for the District–with no mention whatever of District residents’ input.

As for “erring on the side of inclusion,” I disagree. It is better not to err. It is better to formally and explicitly enfranchise American citizens in writing, as has been done by Constitutional amendment a few times already.

  1. I actually support representation in th House for DC (as does ABA) not full statehood, and do not think 2 senators for DC is appropriate.

  2. I did notice that WVA is fully enfranchised, but I find the notion that DC should be retroceded to MD in order to get it’s voting rights bizarre. DC has not been part of MD a lot longer than WVA has not been part of VA. Meanwhile, ABA and several other consitutional scholars have put forward a plan that is in line with the constitution that gives DC citizens voting rights without violating the constitution. Why is this plan less appealing than folding DC into MD.

I also would still like to know who in MD said they did not want DC.

Dead Cat, much of Congress’ control of DC is managed through a committee that includes congressmen and women from the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. In short, we are having decisions made for us by representatives of communities that are in direct economic competition with DC for things like development and jobs. Further, there have been instances of Congress interfering with DC politics in ways that are directly at odds with the wishes of the residents of DC. For example, in the 1990s, DC held a referendum on legalizing medical marijuana, but Congress refused to authorize funds for those votes to be counted. To this day, they sit sealed in a government warehouse. I fail to see how the current state of affairs serves democracy.

Ultimately, I think that DC is a victim of prejudice. Until recently, DC was a majority black city and often when people talk about it, they do so in disparaging terms that are at odds with its current reality. If DC was a white, conservative enclave, Fox News would be running stories on the injustice 24/7, but because the residents are perceived to be black and residents of a “basket case” they don’t really deserve the vote and they might as well just be part of Maryland for some reason that no one can really articulate.

For decades, the DC committees in congress were dominated by southerners who strived hard to maintain segregation (in schools and elsewhere). When that ended there were still issues on which the people in DC differed from the wishes of congress. I think that shrinking the capital district down to the White House and Capitol Hill and putting the rest in MD makes enormous sense. Then Washington becomes a normal city and gets its normal representation in congress.

The more I think about it, the more I’m not really sure what the best solution is. Certainly the people deserve representation, so at the very least giving the DC rep in the House voting rights is reasonable. Whether they become a state themselves or join another state, that representation would be more or less the same, perhaps slightly different boundaries if joined into Maryland or Virginia, but otherwise that seems relatively independent of the statehood issue.

As for senate representation, it sort of depends on how one views the senate. If one sees them as another pure representation of the people, then they should get it, but do they get it by making them a state and giving them two senators or by joining them into another state like Maryland or Virginia and having them vote for those? If you view them as representatives of their state, then DC doesn’t deserve senators unless they’re made a state. Personally, I tend to be more of an opinion of the latter, so it would seem that an argument that they need senate representation is putting the cart before the horse.

So, in looking at that, it seems to me that they can get appropriate representation in congress without even having to address the issue of whether or not they should or should not be a state. So why not just leave it as it is and give their rep voting rights. And if it’s such a big deal that it would give us 436 votes instead of 435, take that into consideration with the next adjustment after the 2020 census.