Jack Marino, '23
DC statehood is purported to give congressional representation to the seven hundred thousand people living in the district who currently only have representation in presidential elections. Additionally, the proposal would free up the DC government to decide its own policy without the approval of the federal government, allowing the city to implement sweeping changes without being slowed down by the federal approval process. The current proposal in the House of Representatives advocates for the federal district to be shrunk into a small area comprising the national mall, the White House and a few other buildings, while the rest of the District of Columbia will be accepted into the Union as a state known as the State of Washington D.C. (Douglass Commonwealth). The debate about DC statehood primarily centers around the two additional democratic senators the State of Washington DC would bring to the senate, rather than philosophical arguments about whether DC should be a state. For the purpose of this argument, I will focus on the philosophical reasons why DC shouldn’t be a state rather than the political reasons.
First, DC statehood is unconstitutional. The constitution states that a “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” (Article 1, Section 8). The constitution guarantees that the seat of government is an area independent from the influence of states, thereby separating the federal government from state governments. Although many would argue that the framers never expected the District of Columbia to become a city of seven hundred thousand people, federal control over DC prevents the elite political class in the Capital from gaining control of state elections which would thereby give them control over crucial parts of the federal government like the Supreme Court. Allowing the Federal Government to self-regulate the seat of its power would prevent undue influence of the state government of DC from influencing the federal legal process. Knowing DC would be the most partisan state ever if admitted into the Union, the state legislature could not be trusted to ensure the fairness of the federal legal process for both parties. This was the exact argument that the framers made in their decision to keep DC under federal control. James Madison, the author of the constitution commented that “the public authority might be insulted and its proceedings interrupted with impunity” if the seat of federal power fell under state control. Therefore, DC statehood would not only require a constitutional amendment, but also would require Maryland to cede the land that makes up the federal district to the creation of a new state. DC statehood violates the constitution both in writing and in philosophy by going against the separation of state and federal power envisioned by the Founding Fathers.
Second, the DC statehood proposal has various inconsistencies that would hurt the effectiveness of the city and the federal democratic process. The DC statehood proposal shrinks the federal District of Columbia significantly, but the district would still maintain three electoral votes in presidential elections. These votes would likely be decided solely by elected representatives and members of government, who would be the only people living there. Besides the obvious effect of supporting incumbents in power, the three additional electoral votes allotted to the much smaller federal district would help keep a single party in power for a longer period of time. By creating a state in a body of land never intended to be a state without a constitutional amendment, the DC statehood proposal creates a variety of technical challenges due to the contradictory nature of the process of creating a new state in DC while maintaining Federal control over key government institutions. To combat these technical challenges within DC, there is reasonable evidence to suggest that the city of DC will suffer from a lack of federal funding for its programs. The federal government spent $275 million on the maintenance of DC’s court system in 2016, and continues to spend money on maintaining key landmarks and locations in the city such as rock creek park and the Washington Monument. This money would have to come from the state of DC at the expense of benefits and social programs for the city’s citizens.
One possible solution that has a constitutional precedent and gives representation to the citizens of Washington DC is retrocession to Maryland. In the 1840s, the area of land across the Potomac River that currently makes up Arlington and some of Alexandria was ceded from Washington DC back to Virginia because residents “felt neglected by the power base across the river” (1). The same could be done with the rest of DC (except for the National Mall and other important federal buildings) returning to Maryland. Unlike current proposals for DC statehood (which only 33% of Americans supported in 2019), retrocession has the potential to gain national appeal. Retrocession would grant residents of DC the representation, while maintaining the delicate balance of power in the senate and is a solution supported by many Republican opponents of DC statehood such as Susan Collins of Maine. Since retrocession has the potential to gain bipartisan support, amending the constitution to fix the technical challenges of redrawing the federal district’s boundaries could be possible. Plus, why wouldn’t DC residents want to join the greatest state in the history of the United States?