As Democrats continue to advance the cause of statehood for Washington, D.C., it is important to consider arguments in support of, and against, these efforts. Congressional Democrats list nine findings concerning statehood for Washington, D.C. in HR1 (Division A, Part 3- Miscellaneous Provisions, Title II, Subtitle C, Section 2201) Yes, it is as far-reaching a piece of legislation as its components would indicate. First among their findings is this statement: “the 705,000 District of Columbia residents deserve voting representation in Congress and local self-government, which only statehood can provide.” An introductory statement that consequential should be supported by data and deep analysis. It is not. Instead, HR1 offers eight additional findings are offered in support of the first- findings that are presented as if they are self-evident, and irrefutable. All nine findings revolve around a core grievance claim: that D.C. residents are victims of suppression because they are subject to all the obligations of citizenship but do not hold the same level of self-determination that citizens of the states enjoy. According to HR1 Washington, D.C. stands as an electoral injustice. Finding #1declares that statehood is the only remedy for this condition. To address the bill’s findings and to determine the legitimacy of the HR1’s grievance claim, we must answer the following questions: what is Washington D.C.’s purpose, what is its reality, and what are the potential consequences of it attaining statehood?
The purpose of Washington, D.C. is to be the Federal City. Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution establishes the Federal District to become “…the Seat of the Government of the United States…” Further, Congress is given authority over the district, authority to “erect… needful buildings”, “to make all laws”, and “for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other Powers” granted to the Federal Government via the Constitution. Congress has sole responsibility over the district. They are to assure that all other branches of the Federal Government can exercise their Constitutional authority within the district. Beyond limiting the district to 100 square miles in area, the Constitution further requires the territory be ceded to Congress by states that are willing to do so. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 (and indeed, the entire Constitution) is evidence that the Federal Government are creations of the states. Article 1 defines Congress, its composition, its powers, and its limitations. Importantly, Article 1 also defines the direct relationship between the various states and Congress. Washington, D.C. provides a special function in that relationship. It is the political expression, the common territory, and the responsibility of every state. Unlike any other jurisdiction in the country, it belongs to the citizens of every state.
This idea is further supported in the Federalist Papers. The Founders were clear on this issue. D.C. is the Federal District. In Federalist #43:2 Madison wrote that “The indispensable necessity of [Congress’] complete authority at the seat of government carries its own evidence with it.” Madison understood that if the federal government were dependent upon (or subject to) the political will of a single state that the political standing of every other state would suffer. Madison continued: “Nor would it be proper for the places on which the security of the entire Union may depend to be in any degree dependent upon a particular member of it. All objections and scrupels (sic) are here also obviated by requesting the concurrence of the States concerned in every such establishment.” In #43:6 Madison proclaimed the maintenance of political institutions and republican forms of government as an indication of a more intimate Union. Washington, D.C. was designed as a political institution of the United States as a whole. Clearly, the Federal District’s purpose is to be a place where the states gather as equals, a place where they could deliberate and create law without being unduly coerced by the will of any single state.
Interestingly, the Federal District is designed to provide a permanent location for a largely impermanent population. Congress, its membership and staffers are not meant to be permanent positions. Administrations and their staff are not supposed to be permanent positions. Judicial clerks are not meant to be permanent positions. Congress does not stay in session. The Supreme Court does not stay in session. Conspicuously, the constitutional clause concerned with the federal district falls in Article 1, the Article that defines the least permanent branch of government. Congress changes its composition every two years. In a further nod to impermanence, Article 1 of the Constitution prevents Congress from establishing “Title of nobility”- restrictions that are reactions to the bloated courts of Europe. Courts are the product of concentrated wealth and power. Titles create permanent privilege and a presence at court allows access to power to a select few. Monarchical courts, being the mechanisms of kings, are where access to power is purchased and unbridled support is rewarded. Republicanism rejects concepts of nobility and title. While kings are hereditary and reign for life, Republicanism rejects this concept enshrining permanent executives. Although the district would likely develop a permanent population of some count, that population would only exist because of the presence of federal government- a fact that brought benefits not enjoyed by the citizens of the various states. Impermanence of power should inhibit a permanent population from gaining excessive power, or wealth, because its proximity to power.
Washington, D.C.’s reality has diverged from its purpose in significant ways. It is now home to a large, permanent, powerful, and quite prosperous population. When ranked against the states, Washington, D.C. holds the top spot in per capita personal income and ranks second once PCPI is adjusted for the purchasing power of a dollar.1 Washington, D.C. is one of the nation’s major wealth centers. Given that 13.5% of the district’s 705,000 residents earn below the poverty line, a significant portion of the remaining nearly 600,000 residents are extremely wealthy.2 That is a significant achievement for a city whose singular purpose is civil service! Seemingly lacking in self-awareness, HR1’s authors proclaim in Finding #5 that “the District of Columbia pays more Federal taxes per capita than any State and more Federal taxes than 22 States.” Approximately 25% of the district’s residents are directly employed by the federal government3,5 (54% of the metro population are directly employed by the Federal Government4), while another 6% are employed by the municipal government.5 Larger portions of the population are indirectly employed by the federal government. D.C.’s transportation, hospitality, tourism, media-publishing, lobbying and policy, education, research, and service industries all exist because of the presence of the federal government. Finding #7 offers the fact that D.C.’s budget is larger than the budgets of 12 states as a reason for statehood. Unfortunately, nearly every dollar earned by the residents of Washington, D.C. was first surrendered by a resident of one of the various states. Considering D.C.’s penchant for accumulating wealth, it may be more helpful if those dollars stayed home. Thus, Findings #5 and #7 lend more support to reforming the district rather than granting it statehood.
Although the Founders may not have envisioned it, D.C. has developed a very large permanent population. Large populations require services: health care, sanitation, food, security, and transportation. As we learned earlier, the Constitution places responsibility for running the district at the feet of Congress. Congress’ handling of the district’s affairs indicate concerns regarding the district potential for tyranny. Originally conceived to occupy 100 square miles straddling the Potomac River, both Maryland and Virginia ceded land for the District. Issues surrounding development and resident status began almost immediately. Competing visions and partisan politics made operating the district a complicated matter. It was obvious that residents would have to engage in commerce, and some (George Washington included) hoped that government activity (when in session) would help local merchants. Washington believed the District should develop its own port to limit its dependence on Maryland and Virginia. Congress’ actions, or rather their lack of action, indicates that most members feared an economically vibrant and politically powerful federal district. At nearly every opportunity, economic growth and political independence were throttled, thus discouraging the development of a large population.
Early on Congress, restricted construction to the Maryland side of the river. Congress neglected to establish a criminal code for the district, although they did establish courts. They empowered the President to appoint a mayor, each section held the laws of its original state. Congress also failed to address the citizenship status of the district’s residents. These facts, and fears surrounding slavery, led Virginia to request that the portion they contributed be returned. Virginia’s section was officially retroceded back to that state in 1847.6 In retroceding a part of the district back to Virginia, Congress off-loaded a third of their responsibility. Court cases have challenged the constitutionality of Congress’ retrocession, including cases heard by the Supreme Court, without a clear opinion being reached.7 The courts understand that Congress is responsible for the District. Serious population growth did not occur until the Civil War, and even then, much of even the reduced District remained rural. Georgetown remained a separate city within the district until after the Civil War. It was not until the 20th Century that the district realized substantial population growth. Most of the public Washington, D.C. we know was only created in the 1900’s. It was not until 1960 that Congress did not propose the 23rd Amendment, which allows D.C. residents to vote (with some limitations) in presidential elections! In 1973, Congress passed the Home Rule Act which allowed D.C. residents to elect a mayor and a city council. Congress did reserve the right to veto actions taken by the municipal government but allowed them broad control. Congress’ frequent throttling of economic growth and political activity in D.C. is a clear indication that they consider the District as something other than a state or territory.
Given Congress’ historic reluctance to encourage the district’s growth, how did Washington, D.C. gain so much power and wealth? Washington, D.C. became powerful and wealthy because Congress let it. These ideas do not contradict each other, however. In many instances, Congress stifled the district’s growth by being passive, by not taking up their responsibility. The same is true in how Congress allowed for the district’s recent accumulation of power and wealth. They deferred a great deal of authority regarding the district to the Executive Branch. The rise of progressive politics (on the left and right) required the creation of new agencies. These new agencies received their mandates from Congress and never looked back. Two World Wars, a Cold War, and a global War on Terror allowed for the creation of a Security Complex over which Congress exercises little oversight. Agency after agency charged with correcting societal ills demonstrate little to no effectiveness while Congress pays lip service to oversight. Congress, the people’s branch, has abrogated nearly all its responsibilities regarding the district. This abrogation is purposeful. Tackling hard issues might not keep you in office, or your party in power- and staying in office has its perks! After all, D.C. is where the well-off become wealthy.
Washington, D.C. is a circus of the absurd. It is a home for incredible wealth while crime occurs at an alarming level. Total crime, violent crime, and property crime all exist at rates of more than 100% of the national average.8 Under the watchful eyes of Congress, and the Municipal Government’s steadfast leadership, the city’s crime rate lands it in 97th percentile nationally.9 Sadly, Washington, D.C. is always near the top of the nation in police spending per capita.10 It is also near the top in the number of municipal police per capita.11 How many additional people are employed in private security or are federal agents? Yet it is one of the nation’s most dangerous cities. Public education in the district is nearly as bad as public safety. Despite spending at similar levels to its neighboring states, Washington, D.C.’s public schools rank 49th in a study of public schools in the 50 states and D.C.12 HR1’s Finding #6 reports that the district has a greater population than two states. Remember in Finding #7, how D.C.’s budget is higher than the budgets of 12 states? How could such a small jurisdiction (61 square miles), with such a small population (705,000), possess so much wealth, employ so many police, and produce so much crime? How could such a wealthy city, with such a large budget, produce such bad schools? Washington, D.C. is clearly a failed city.
Finally, what are the consequences if Washington, D.C. were granted statehood? Considering the district’s limited area, the municipal government would likely become the state government: same people, same results. Given the district’s already substantial tax rates, the state’s budget would likely equal the current city budget. D.C.’s average resident would likely not realize any real benefit. Could they possibly spend more money on public safety? Would the quality of a public education improve? Certainly, the citizens of the various states would lose quite a bit. The 23rd Amendment, which allowed D.C. residents to vote in presidential elections, allotted the district three votes in the Electoral College. Simply redrawing the district’s boundaries does not negate the three votes. Instead, redrawing the boundary reduces the number of inhabitants attached to those three votes. A Constitutional Amendment cannot be undone by statute. Rather than 705,000 residents having three votes, we could have 50,000 residents with three votes. This would afford those residents, a significant over-representation in the Electoral College, not to mention that in the statehood proposal the new state would likely receive three more votes in the Electoral College. Having a total of 6 votes in the Electoral College is a lot of power for the 705,000 people that occupy 61 square miles. Without a Constitutional Amendment, statehood under these conditions would create a super-enfranchised resident. These residents are the federal government. They execute the actions of government, and for some portion of that number, the veracity to which those actions are executed. They compel the citizens of the 50 states and the federal territories into compliance with the actions of government. They are bureaucrats and agents of the federal government. D.C. residents employed in the media, lobbying, and consulting industries influence the actions of government. What portion of the district’s 705,000 residents exercise influence beyond that of the residents of the states and territories? Do these residents deserve the super-enfranchisement that would result from statehood?
Washington, D.C.’s extremely wealthy and powerful residents would be the greatest beneficiaries of statehood. Their already unhealthy level of power and influence over the federal government would increase well beyond that of the citizens of the other states and territories. Federalism dies with D.C. statehood. Democrat party politics also benefits from D.C. statehood. Every Senator and Representative would be a democrat. There is no reason to believe that that would not be a reality for the next fifty years. The Democrat Party, which represents the nation’s wealthy, Ivy League, metropolitan elite would secure their control. An already-growing cynicism of political institutions would certainly increase. Those adversely affected by D.C. statehood would be the citizens of the fifty states and the other territories. As has been pointed out earlier, many the residents of Washington, D.C. have access to power and wealth not enjoyed by most Americans. Access to power and the opportunity to influence is their benefit, certainly that cannot be counted as grievance. Neither is the accumulation of wealth derived largely from governmental largesse. Are there permanent residents of Washington, D.C. who do not have access to power, influence, and wealth? Yes, there are. Is statehood the only (or best) remedy for their plight? Likely not.
Proposals to grant D.C. statehood rise from a danger greater than the grievances (perceived or real) of D.C.’s permanent residents. They are born from the arrogance of our age. In this nation’s 3.797 million square miles can we not spare 61 square miles as a place for the representatives of our 50 states to conduct the affairs of government? Reducing the Federal City from 68 square miles to just a few is shortsighted. Will the 50 states and U.S. territories ever require more area to govern themselves than the few square miles to which the federal city will be reduced? Will future citizens or events deserve memorialization? Where will we, the people of the 50 states and U.S. Territories place those memorials if not in our Federal City? Will existing buildings become obsolete and require replacement or expansion? Will the beautiful and inspiring openness of the National Mall become littered with boxes of steel, concrete, and glass? Where will a future Martin Luther King envision his dream? My cynicism wonders if restricting the citizenry’s access to assemble before the temples of power is not an unstated goal of statehood proponents.
Granting statehood to D.C. would represent another abrogation of Congressional responsibility. It would be a feckless act. Our elected representatives are supposed to be our brightest, yet they are unwilling to tackle the complex. Are they capable of holding real hearings where they listen to evidence rather than regurgitating their party’s curated position statements? Can they deliberate? There are solutions to the grievances of Washington, D.C.’s non-elite residents that do not involve further empowering the city’s already powerful. Congress should first determine who the citizens of D.C. are and qualify their relationship to the federal government. Does “Taxation with Undue Access” trump “Taxation without Representation.” We, the citizens of the 50 states, should also push our state legislatures to pass resolutions defining Washington, D.C.’s relationship to the 50 states. HR1 is an assault on the existing relationship. It is an effort by America’s metropolitan elite to secure their position. This examination has invalidated the claim of HR1’s Finding # 3 that “there are no constitutional, historical, fiscal, or economic reasons why the Americans who live in the District of Columbia should not be granted statehood.” We have damaged the claims in Findings #5, #6, #7 and #9. Finding #2 is largely irrelevant. Does any other nation have our electoral system? Finding#1 is simply a statement that rests on the claims of Findings #2-#7 and #9, so invalidating them invalidates Finding #1.
Conveniently, Finding #8 states that all new states are admitted by acts of Congress and implies that Congress should act decisively to establish new states when it finds electoral injustices. HR1 suggests that when populations are oppressed and are restricted from Congressional representation, they are entitled to statehood. It claims that when those populations rise above that of the smallest state or when their economies and tax contributions would be greater than that of the smallest state, they are entitled to statehood. It states that when historical, fiscal, and economic conditions warrant statehood, Congress will champion those populations in seeking statehood. In Illinois, the 8 million citizens of the 5 county greater Chicago area vote so disproportionately Democrat that the 4.5 million voters in the state’s other 97 counties are largely shut-out of the political process on the state and national level. Cook County alone accounted for 114% of the state’s total difference in votes during the 2020 presidential election. Is this situation fair? No, but it is democracy. That is why our founders did not set-up a purely democratic system at the national level. Similar situations exist in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York. Other states are trending toward this same reality. Georgia and Virginia are examples. Separation movements already exist in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Illinois, and New York. Conveniently, HR1 illuminates a corrective path by way of Findings #1 and #8. Findings #1, #3, #5, #6, and #7 support these efforts either explicitly or implicitly. We should help the state separation movements that exist now, and we should encourage those that should justly exist. They are examples of voter suppression where the citizens have no access to power, unlike that which would be wielded disproportionately by D.C.51’s Ivy League Elite.
Author: J. Lee Sigmon
Editor: Andy Barker
Notes and References:
Subtitle C—Findings Relating To District Of Columbia Statehood
SEC. 2201. FINDINGS RELATING TO DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA STATEHOOD.
Congress finds the following:
(1) The 705,000 District of Columbia residents deserve voting representation in Congress and local self-government, which only statehood can provide.
(2) The United States is the only democratic country that denies both voting representation in the national legislature and local self-government to the residents of its Nation’s capital.
(3) There are no constitutional, historical, fiscal, or economic reasons why the Americans who live in the District of Columbia should not be granted statehood.
(4) Since the founding of the United States, the residents of the District of Columbia have always carried all of the obligations of citizenship, including serving in all of the Nation’s wars and paying Federal taxes, but have been denied voting representation in Congress and freedom from congressional interference in purely local matters.
(5) The District of Columbia pays more Federal taxes per capita than any State and more Federal taxes than 22 States.
(6) The District of Columbia has a larger population than 2 States (Wyoming and Vermont), and 6 States have a population under one million.
(7) The District of Columbia has a larger budget than 12 States.
(8) The Constitution of the United States gives Congress the authority to admit new States (clause 1, section 3, article IV) and reduce the size of the seat of the Government of the United States (clause 17, section 8, article I). All 37 new States have been admitted by an Act of Congress, and Congress has previously reduced the size of the seat of the Government of the United States.
(9) On June 26, 2020, by a vote of 232–180, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, which would have admitted the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth from the residential portions of the District of Columbia and reduced the size of the seat of the Government of the United States to the United States Capitol, the White House, the United States Supreme Court, the National Mall, and the principal Federal monuments and buildings.
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