Democrats have been pushing the idea of making DC into a state for decades. They give all kinds of reasons for that, but it really comes down to the fact that it would add two new Senate seats that would forevermore be filled by Democrats. Of course, since Democrats want to make DC a state for purely partisan reasons, it makes perfect sense that Republicans should oppose it for purely partisan reasons. If you live in a Republican state, why would you want to see the value of your state’s Senate seats diluted that way? However, getting beyond that, some people might be looking for a better reason than that or wondering why DC isn’t already a state. Well, there is an answer.
First and foremost, DC, which was created in 1790 on land ceded by Virginia and Maryland, was never intended to be a state. The Founders feared that if the seat of government was housed in a state, that state’s representatives could potentially have far too much influence over the federal government. That was and still is a very reasonable fear. In addition, DC makes no sense as a state. Yes, DC is densely populated, but it’s also 68 square miles of territory. Meanwhile, the smallest state in the union is tiny Rhode Island, which is 1045 square miles. DC is a city, not a state – and it’s barely in the top 20 largest cities in America. There are 19 other cities in America that have more than DC’s 714k residents. Should each of them be their own state? If the Democrats decide they want more Senate seats, are we going to create the state of Los Angeles or the state of Philadelphia?
Democrats are even talking about declaring that a small strip of DC is the Capitol and the rest should be allowed to become a state. That would make the city-state even smaller and it begs an obvious question. If that were to happen, wouldn’t it make more sense for that city to join a much larger, already existing state like Maryland or Virginia rather than trying to create an itsy-bitsy new state from scratch for political reasons? Are we really going to start a “state creation” arms race between the parties over this? If DC can be a state, the next time the Republican Party is in charge, why shouldn’t they take a sparsely populated, yet conservative, 100 square mile slice of Oklahoma and Alaska, declare both of them are new states and get those 4 new seats in the Senate? It is obviously a horrible idea, but it also makes just as much sense as what Democrats want to do with DC.
One of the reasons Democrats are putting forth that questionable scheme is to try to get around the obvious Constitutional problems with making DC a state. To begin with, Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution specifically gives Congress the authority to govern the district:
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, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings…
The general consensus among legal experts has long been that it would take a Constitutional Amendment to contradict that wording and allow a state government to take over from Congress. The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution is an even bigger hurdle for DC statehood with an amendment:
The District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct: A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State…
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of wiggle room there. The Constitution clearly, unambiguously says that DC is not a state. That almost certainly would mean that a Constitutional Amendment should be required. Incidentally, this has not traditionally been a controversial position. Republicans and Democrats have generally agreed on this point for decades and realistically, it seems extraordinarily unlikely DC could possibly get 2/3 of both houses of Congress and 3/4s of the states to sign on for an Amendment to the Constitution for DC.
What it all comes down to is this is nothing but a blatant power-grab by the Democrats and there’s no reason for Republicans or the rest of the country to go along with it, while there are an awful lot of good reasons to oppose it.
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