Washington D.C: The 51st State?


In 1790 after Maryland and Virginia both ceded land for the creation of a new district, Washington D.C. was founded. Originally, those inhabiting D.C. did not have legal representation in the government, however, on March 29, 1961, the 23rd Amendment was ratified which granted D.C. electors in the Electoral College.

In 2016, a referendum was introduced in which 79% of voters in D.C. supported a proposal that would split D.C. into both a residential state and a small federal district (for government buildings and monuments). The move towards statehood can dramatically change the lives of those living within the district; as Democrats say “the districts more than 700,000 citizens have been disenfranchised for too long.” 

On Friday, June 26, the House of Representatives approved the HR 51 of Washington D.C; 238-180. This vote is historic, as it is the first time the move for D.C’s statehood has been passed in the House of Representatives. The last time the House voted on statehood was in 1993; this bill failed 153-277. This is surprising to many because of major politicians, such as former Pres. Barack Obama not supporting statehood until as recent as 2014. 


How is Statehood Determined?

Typically, this procedure is followed when granting statehood;

  • The territory (in this case, the district) holds a referendum vote to determine the people’s desire for or against statehood
  • If a majority of the voters seek statehood, the territory (or district) petitions Congress 
  • Territory (or district) is required to adopt a form of government and constitution that are in compliance with the United States Constitution
  • Both the House and the Senate must pass a joint resolution accepting the territory (district) as a state by a simple majority 
  • The President signs the joint resolution and the territory (district) is then acknowledged as a U.S. state. 

In the case of Washington, D.C; they decided to follow the Tennessee Plan, first used in 1796 by Tennessee, then again by Michigan, Iowa, California, Oregon, Kansas, and Alaska. Under this, “the prospective state’s electorate votes on statehood and ratifies a constitution, without an enabling act, then uses this as a basis to petition Congress for admission.”   In accordance with the above requirements, voters of D.C. have the following;

  • 86% of voters supported the Washington, D.C. Admission Act 
  • Ratified a state constitution
  • Established new state boundaries, which would preserve smaller federal district as required by the U.S Constitution 
  • Committed to a republican form of government that is representative, with elected officials including the election of United States Senators and Representatives on equal footing with other states in the Union. 


What Would Washington D.C. Look Like as a State? 

In an effort to keep federal buildings and monuments in an apolitical area, the monuments and buildings will be separated into what would be called the “Federal Enclave”–a “two-square-mile home of the federal constitutional district, historical monuments, and the nation’s capital.”



Why Should Washington D.C. Become a State?

According to the official Statehood website, residents of Washington D.C. fulfill all obligations of United States citizenship, however, they are denied representation in Congress. 

Washington D.C. has 702,000 residents, more than both Wyoming and Vermont, and this population is comparable with other states such as Delaware and Alaska. 

Residents of D.C. pay the highest federal income tax per-capita in the United States. Overall, the residents of D.C. “pay more in total federal income tax than residents of 22 other states, but have no say over how those tax dollars a spent.”

Washington D.C. currently operates as a state, only with federal control over the courts and people in prison for committing felonies in D.C. Also, Washington D.C. “receives between 25-30% of its budget from the federal government; as a percentage, this is less than five states and is on par with three others.”

This website also has claimed that residents of D.C. are denied representation, their arguments are as follows; 

  • Residents of D.C. have fought for this country, yet those veterans are denied the freedoms they have selflessly fought to protect. 
  • Residents of D.C. elect a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives who is able to draft legislation but cannot cast a vote. 
  • Residents of D.C. are denied a voice in the Senate both in committee and on the floor. Meaning, D.C. residents have “no say in the determination of who should serve as leadership for federal agencies, serve as U.S. Ambassadors to foreign countries, sit on federal court benches, or serve in the U.S Supreme Court. This is true for even the federal courts within D.C.’s boundaries.”

Despite arguments regarding the unconstitutionality of D.C. statehood, the campaign for statehood argues the opposite. “The Constitution sets only a maximum size, ‘ten miles square,’ for the federal district that is the ‘Seat of the Government of the United States.’ Congress has the authority to redefine the borders of the federal district and shrink its size, as it did in 1846 when the portion west of the Potomac was returned to Virginia (now Arlington and Alexandria Counties).” The creation of this new state would require a reduction in the size of the current federal district to an area that is unpopulated. This area would include the “U.S Capitol, the National Mall, museums, some federal office buildings, the White House, the Supreme Court, and major national monuments.”


Is it Unconstitutional? 

Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the United States Constitution states;

The Congress shall have Power . . .
To exercise executive 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 the Government of the United States . . . 

Which “provides explicitly for a national capital that would not be part of a state nor treated as a state, but rather a unique enclave.”

The Office of Management and Budget released a statement on June 24, 2020, saying HR 51 is unconstitutional “because the retrocession of portions of the District of Columbia into a separate state would violate the 23rd Amendment.” Ratified in 1961, the 23rd Amendment allows citizens residing in Washington D.C. to vote for the President and Vice President. The statement continues to say “if, as H.R. 51 proposes, the District were reduced to a small jurisdiction made up of essentially only Federal buildings, the 23rd Amendment would give the tiny population of individuals living within those borders the same voting power in the Electoral College as the smallest state in the country . . . For example, given its small size, the Federal capital would depend entirely on the new State of Washington, D.C., for most, if not all, of necessary modern services, which directly implicates a concern that troubled the Framers.

Another argument against the Statehood of Washington, D.C., is Federalist #43. In this essay, James Madison explained that, if Washington, D.C., “were to be granted Statehood; the state would have too much power as members of Congress would be beholden to it as part-time residents.”


Will H.R 51 Pass

Although the bill historically passed the House, it is unlikely that it will pass the Senate. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer acknowledged the difficult opposition the bill is going up against.  Hoyer also called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take this seriously stating; “I hope that Senate McConnell cares enough about our democracy to allow a vote on this bill in the United States Senate. Politics is not the issue. It’s democracy that’s the issue.”

Senate Majority Leader McConnell has stated; “They plan to make the District of Columbia a state—that’d give them two new Democratic Senators–Puerto Rico a state, that would give them to more new Democratic senators. [. . .] So this is full bore socialism on the march in the House. And yeah, as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.”

In the off chance, H.R 51 passed the Senate, President Trump has already stated he will veto the bill once it crosses his desk.

20191120 student bowen alexandria

Currently a Senior at Ohio Northern University, Alex is majoring in Political Science and minoring in International Studies, Public Policy, Geography and Social Media. Currently involved with organizations such as Amnesty International USA, Alex is a dedicated activist on all fronts. In the future, she hopes to go to Law School to obtain her J.D in order to continue the never-ending fight for rights.

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