225 Years Ago Washington, DC, Was Founded: Here’s Why It Will Never Become the 51st State

The Daily Signal

Mike Sabo

It’s that time of the year again: U.S. House Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is ramping up her efforts to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state in the Union.

Her bill, which would create the state of New Columbia from the existing District of Columbia, is the latest in a long line of legislative proposals with the ultimate goal to secure full voting representation for the District in Congress.

Appealing to patriotic sentiment, advocates of making D.C. into a state have clothed their campaign in the rhetoric of the American Revolution.

They cry “Taxation Without Representation,” a slogan plastered on D.C. license plates (the DMV “encourages” all D.C. residents “to support D.C.’s quest for full representation in the U.S. Congress”) and made into a hashtag campaign on Twitter.

Today, on the 225th anniversary of the founding of Washington, D.C., it is a good time to reflect on why making D.C. the 51st state is not only unconstitutional but overlooks the fact that D.C. residents are already well-represented.

Legislative proposals to make D.C. a state violate the Constitution in at least two ways.

Article I, Section 8 grants Congress the right to “exercise exclusive Legislation” over the “District” that is “the Seat of the Government of the United States.”

Congress cannot simply change the “Seat of the Government” into a state or delegate its power over the District to the government of a new state.

It took a constitutional amendment to give D.C. residents the ability to vote for president because they are not a state and Congress could not make them a state.

Ratified in 1961, the 23rd Amendment recognizes Congress’s authority to oversee the manner in which the District appoints electors to the Electoral College.

Congress cannot single-handedly eliminate the power this amendment grants only to Congress.

Article I would need to be amended, and the 23rd Amendment would need to be repealed for legislative efforts to be constitutional.

In Adams v. Clinton (2000), the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found that legislative efforts to allow for voting representation in Congress were unconstitutional.

The three judge panel made it clear that the Constitution would need to be amended in order for such changes to take place within the law.

Congress itself recognized this in 1977 with a constitutional amendment to grant D.C. representation—it failed to gain the approval of the states.

Constitutional questions aside, proponents pushing for D.C. statehood overlook the fact that D.C. residents are already well-represented.

The Founders reasoned that the whole Congress would represent the interests of the residents of the District of Columbia.

According to Justice Joseph Story, those who lived in the District “would receive with thankfulness such a blessing, since their own importance would be thereby increased, their interests subserved, and their rights be under the immediate protection of the representatives of the whole.”

This remains true today, especially in light of the fact that federal spending often benefits D.C. residents more than those living in the states, whose residents usually receive far less in federal funding per capita than D.C. residents.

In fact, seven of the 10 wealthiest counties in America surround Washington, D.C.

The interests of the residents of the District are already highly promoted, even perhaps at the expense of the rest of the country.

Furthermore, D.C. residents are represented by a second body, the Council of the District of Columbia.

With the passage of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act in 1973, Congress ceded a portion of its authority to govern local affairs to a city council.

The council is made up of 13 members and a mayor—each of which is an elected position.

Though the campaign to make the District of Columbia a state and grant it full congressional voting will lumber on, supporters should come to terms with the constitutional and practical impediments outlined above.

If proponents of D.C. statehood want to live in a state and not a district, they have some options that are very close by.

Puerto Rican Statehood Bill Picks Up Steam

Human Events

Legislation providing Puerto Rico an avenue to statehood picked up steam last week in the U.S. Senate. Last Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources conducted a hearing on H.R. 2499, the Puerto Rican Democracy Act. The House passed this legislation last month 223-169 after adding an amendment to allow the people of Puerto Rico more options on what they want for the future of Puerto Rico—to retain commonwealth status or to opt for statehood, independence or sovereign association with the United States. Senate action on this legislation may come later this year.

One problem with the legislation is that it rigs a vote of the Puerto Rican people in favor of statehood. The House-passed legislation authorizes Puerto Rico to have a vote on whether the people want to retain the present form of political status or a different political status.

Most analysts agree that the people of Puerto Rico have concerns about the current status. If the vote on change passes, then the Puerto Ricans will have another vote and be provided four choices on the future of the Puerto Rican government. Under this complicated scenario, it’s possible that statehood could be ratified in the second vote by a mere plurality.

Another problem with this legislation is that residency requirements are waived to boost participation in these votes. The act allows people born in Puerto Rico who have relocated to the United States to vote in these plebiscites. The final results of these votes may be distorted, and Puerto Ricans who don’t live there given a greater say than they deserve. This legislation eliminates the traditional voting requirement that people vote where they have a residence and where they intend to reside.

When Alaska and Hawaii voted for statehood, the populations voted overwhelmingly in favor of full statehood, yet the people of Puerto Rico have three times rejected the idea of statehood. Conservatives support the idea of statehood for Puerto Rico, but only if the people who actually live there want it, want it with a supermajority, and the American people consent to add a new state.