Statehood for Washington D.C.- A Possible Future
Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Two weeks ago, on April 21st, the House of Representatives voted in favor of statehood for Washington D.C. (D216- R208) (congress.gov). However, for The Washington Admission Act (Bill HR 51) to become a law it must also be supported by the Senate which has a narrow informal democratic majority. It is split 50/50, but Vice President Harris can provide a tie-breaking vote. Furthermore, given that D.C.’s statehood is a constitutional issue (it may be dependent on a constitutional amendment), a supermajority of 64% of votes in favor, might be necessary. So, what are some changes which could follow from statehood? Why might residents of Washington D.C. residents support it?
Flag of Washington D.C., retrieved from Wikimedia Commons
Firstly, Washington D.C. would receive its first two Senators and voting powers for a House Representative. Eleanor Holmes Norton (1991-present), Washington D.C.’s House delegate does not have any voting rights.
Secondly, the state would no longer be controlled by Congress. This is a big deal. For the first time, D.C. citizens would have control over their budget through their representatives. Thirdly, the name would change from Washington District of Columbia to the Washington, Douglass Commonwealth--after George Washington and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass (abc7chicago). Fourthly, the U.S. Capitol would be reduced to a conglomeration of Federal buildings, namely; the White House, the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court building, Federal executive, legislative, and judicial office buildings (abc7chicago) . The surrounding Washington, Douglas Commonwealth would not count as Capitol territory. Finally, the Democrats would supposedly receive two progressive Senators--providing democrats with a clear Senate majority. Clearly, statehood would be followed by many changes, but why might D.C. residents support it?
Representation is the core motivator for achieving statehood. However, taxation, economic support, and social issues are also highly relevant to this debate.
First, residents of Washington D.C. pay more than 22 states in federal taxes,while lacking congressional representation. Second, the district was also denied $755 million dollars on COVID-19 relief funds, which were distributed to Vermont, and Wyoming (both of which have a smaller population than D.C.). Representation of black voters is also relevant to this debate. Black people make up 47% of the D.C. population (770,000). This denies an already small minority in the country (13%) from contributing their perspectives to Congress.
Washington D.C. license plate, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons
So, what contention do those opposed to statehood have?
In a letter to The President and other Congressional leaders, 22 Republican attorney generals argue that Bill 51 is (1) unconstitutional, (2) bad policy-- because would make Washingtonians “the most privileged residents of any states in the Union”.
The GOP argues unconstitutionality based on two Constitutional articles. Firstly, they argue that according to Article IV, section 3 of the Constitution holds that “new States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union”. However, their point is that Bill 51 can only be passed by a Constitutional amendment--not by “ordinary legislation” (letter). Keep in mind, to make an amendment to The U.S. Constitution, a supermajority of 64% in the Senate, and House of Representatives, is required. .Secondly, they argue that Congress does not have the authority to create an entirely new state-- referring to Art I, section 8, clause 17 of the Constitution. The GOP also suggests that Bill 51 would be “bad policy” because it would create a powerful superior elite in the United States. They argue that increased federal access would provide the state with unparalleled powers compared. However, they seem to disregard the fact that Washington D.C. would cease to be the U.S. Capitol. It remains unclear how D.C. would become a “superstate”, through statehood.
Bill 51 should be passed, but clearly it is a constitutional issue. Instead of denying the bill as some sort of technocratic propaganda promulgated by Democrats, GOP representatives should vote in support of a constitutional amendment, and pass statehood. As I’ve mentioned frequently in this article, the issue here is about representation. The citizens of Washington D.C. pay taxes, vote for Presidents, and fight in wars--all the while lacking legislative autonomy. Republicans may contend that residents can vote for congress in other states of residence. But, how does that solve the problem of local autonomy?
Hot Air or Real Action?
There’s no way to tell whether or not Bill 51 will be passed. However, last year in June of 2020 a similar legislation reached the House (washingtonpost), but was shut down in a Republican controlled congress. The partisan tables have turned, but have the sentiments of pursuing statehood changed? We will have to wait and see.
Find The Washington Admission Act- Bill HR 51 here.
Find the letter written to government leadership here.