Why DC Statehood is a Bad Idea
On April 22, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 51, which would make the nation’s capital city, Washington, D.C., the 51st US State. DC would be renamed to “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth” (after Frederick Douglass) and the newly minted state would receive representation in both the House and the Senate.
Here is why D.C. statehood is a bad idea for the country, both now and in the future.
Is DC Statehood Constitutional?
DC Statehood is constitutional but admitting DC into the union would raise significant issues, both legally and politically. Congress can create the state, but there would almost certainly be difficulties.
The DC statehood movement is mired in constitutional complications. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the United States Constitution states that:
Congress shall have power […] To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of Government of the United States […].
The Founding Fathers clearly intended to create a federal district, independent of state control, to be the capital of the country. In fact, the placement of the federal district was a key component of the ratification of the Constitution; the Compromise of 1790 between Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison saw the capital located in the South in exchange for the federal government assuming responsibility for state debts.
An independent capital featured prominently in founding discussions, and rightly so. If the capital were located in a specific state, that state would have undue influence, power, and control over the national government. Federal employees and lawmakers must be able to live and work free from the direct power of some other governing body.
H.R. 51 does not necessarily violate the letter of Clause 17. It shrinks the size of the federal district to the area directly surrounding federal buildings and monuments, thus technically fulfilling constitutional obligations. However, it does raise significant issues.
The first issue is obvious. Reducing the size of the federal district puts many government officials and legislators under the control of a state government. Giving state officials power over the living and working conditions of the federal government allows them to exert undue pressure on national affairs and potentially harass or influence employees living in their jurisdiction. A minuscule federal district violates the spirit and intent of Clause 17.
The second issue is a little more intricate. The Twenty-Third Amendment gives the federal district a minimum of three electoral votes for President of the United States. This number would not change if the district were shrunk; thus, under H.R. 51, a tiny area with a population of less than a thousand would be able to wield three entire votes for President. Each federal district resident’s vote would be many dozens of times more powerful than anyone else’s in the whole country, which is patently absurd and egregiously violates the principle of “one person, one vote.”
Ultimately, since Congress has the power to admit new states into the union, DC statehood is constitutional. However, H.R. 51 violates the spirit and pragmatism of the Constitution and the Founders’ intentions.
DC Compared to Other States
On a less legalistic side, there are important practical considerations when it comes to DC statehood. Washington, DC if it were a state, would be the 49th least populous state in the union, in front of Wyoming. It would also be the smallest state by area, measuring only 61 square miles. The next smallest state, Rhode Island, measures 1545 square miles. DC could fit inside Rhode Island over 25 times. Additionally, as of 2019, DC is only the 20th most populous city in the country.
Clearly, DC is unremarkable by the numbers. Many other regions and cities would be better applicants for statehood. It is absurd to give two senators to a single city that does not even have 1 million residents. Having a state so small in an equal body with states as big as Texas and California is blatantly unfair and, given that DC already exists without statehood, is entirely unnecessary.
Arguments for DC Statehood
Of course, there are some legitimate arguments in favor of DC statehood. Below are some of the more salient, and their rebuttals:
DC does pays federal taxes, and thus is entitled to representation.
While this may be true, if the residents of DC desired representation, a far simpler and more equitable solution would be to merge DC with either Virginia or Maryland. Lack of representation does not create the need for a brand-new, tiny state.
DC has a more robust and productive economy than many other states.
If economy were a measure of statehood, places like New York, Texas, and California could be broken into many little states.
DC residents cannot control their own laws.
This concern is valid, given that DC laws are ultimately set by a legislature that is not elected by its residents. However, this issue could easily be solved by merging with a neighboring state and does not require the addition of two Senators to the body.
Arguments Against DC Statehood
Below are the arguments against DC statehood, summarized.
- DC statehood violates the spirit of the Constitution.
- DC statehood creates an absurd electoral imbalance.
- DC statehood gives unfair representative power to a very small group of people for an arbitrary reason.
Why DC Statehood is a Bad Idea
DC statehood is a bad idea because it dramatically changes the structure of the American Union. The independent federal district is a hugely important component the political system, and erasing it disrupts a tenuous balance of power. Giving two senators to a tiny city that votes overwhelmingly for one party fundamentally shifts power in one direction. DC does not mean any of the commonsense criteria for statehood. A far simpler, fairer solution exists; DC could easily join a neighboring state. Advocating for the creation of a new state to serve 700,000 people is a naked power play that has no basis in pragmatism, history, or constitutional integrity.