The District of Columbia statehood movement is a political movement that advocates making the District of Columbia a U.S. state. As the national capital, the District of Columbia is a federal district under the direct jurisdiction of the United States Congress. Statehood would grant the District voting representation in the Congress and full control over local affairs. For most of the modern statehood movement, the new state's name would have been "New Columbia".
Statehood for the District, which is also known as District of Columbia, might be achieved by an act of Congress, under the power granted to Congress by the United States Constitution to admit new states to the Union (Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1). However, there is some debate as to whether simple legislation would be sufficient to grant statehood to District of Columbia, which is the seat of the United States federal government.
In 1783, a crowd of disbanded Revolutionary War soldiers angry about not having been paid gathered to protest outside the building where the Continental Congress was meeting. The soldiers blocked the door and initially refused to allow the delegates to leave. Despite requests from the Congress, the Pennsylvania state government declined to call out its militia to deal with the unruly mob, and so Congress was forced to abruptly adjourn to New Jersey.
This led to the widespread belief that Congress needed control over the national capital. As James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 43, "Without it, not only the public authority might be insulted and its proceedings interrupted with impunity; but a dependence of the members of the general government on the State comprehending the seat of the government, for protection in the exercise of their duty, might bring on the national councils an imputation of awe or influence, equally dishonorable to the government and dissatisfactory to the other members of the Confederacy." This belief resulted in the creation of a national capital, separate from any state, by the Constitution's District Clause.
[The Congress shall have Power] 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 the government of the United States.
However, Madison further wrote in Federalist 43 that the residents of the new federal district "will have had their voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them." Madison did not elaborate as to how this would be but even with a then unidentified parcel suggested that the principles of self-government would not be absent in the capital of the Republic.
In 1788, the land on which the District is formed was ceded by Maryland. In 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act placing the District on the Potomac River between the Anacostia and Connogochegue with the exact location chosen by President Washington. His selection was announced on January 24, 1791, and the Residence Act was amended to include land that Virginia had ceded in 1790. That land was returned to Virginia in 1847. The Congress did not officially move to the new federal capital until the first Monday in December 1800. During that time the District was governed by a combination of a federally appointed Board of Commissioners, the state legislatures and locally elected governments.
Within a year of moving to the District, Congress passed the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 and incorporated the new federal District under its sole authority as permitted by the District Clause. Since the District of Columbia was no longer part of any state, the District's residents lost voting representation in Congress and the Electoral College as well as a voice in Constitutional Amendments and the right to home rule, facts that did not go without protest. In January 1801, a meeting of District citizens was held which resulted in a statement to Congress noting that as a result of the impending Organic Act "we shall be completely disfranchised in respect to the national government, while we retain no security for participating in the formation of even the most minute local regulations by which we are to be affected. We shall be reduced to that deprecated condition of which we pathetically complained in our charges against Great Britain, of being taxed without representation."
Talk of suffrage for the District of Columbia began almost immediately, though it mostly focused on a constitutional amendments and retrocession, not statehood. In 1801, Augustus Woodward writing under the name Epaminondes, wrote a series of newspaper articles in the National Intelligencer proposing a constitutional amendment that would read "The Territory of Columbia shall be entitled to one Senator in the Senate of the United States; and to a number of members in the House of Representatives proportionate to its population." Since then more than 150 constitutional amendments and bills have been introduced to provide representation to the District of Columbia, resulting in congressional hearings on more than twenty occasions, with the first of those hearings in 1803. At that time, resolutions were introduced by Congress to retrocede most of District of Columbia to Maryland. Citizens fearful that the seat of government be moved asked that DC be given a territorial government and an amendment to the Constitution for equal rights. But James Holland of North Carolina argued that creating a territorial government would leave citizens dissatisfied. He said, "the next step will be a request to be admitted as a member of the Union, and, if you pursue the practice relative to territories, you must, so soon as their numbers will authorize it, admit them into the Union."
The first proposal for congressional representation to get serious consideration came in 1888, but it wouldn't be until 1921 that congressional hearings would be held on the subject. Those hearings resulted in the first bill, introduced by Sen. Wesley Lively Jones (R-WA), to be reported out of committee that would have addressed District representation. The bill would have enabled - though not required – Congress to treat residents of DC as though they were citizens of a state.
Congress members continued to propose amendments to address the District's lack of representation, with efforts picking up as part of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s. This eventually resulted in successful passage of the Twenty-third Amendment in 1961, which granted the District votes in the Electoral College in proportion to their size as if they were a state, but no more than the least populous state. This right has been exercised by D.C. citizens since the presidential election of 1964.
With District citizens still denied full suffrage, members continued to propose bills to address congressional representation. Such bills made it out of committee in 1967 and 1972, for a House floor for a vote in 1976 and in 1978 resulted in the formal proposal of the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment. But that amendment expired in 1985, 22 ratifications short of the needed 38.
Before the failure of the Voting Rights Amendment, but when passage seemed unlikely, District voters finally began to pursue statehood. In 1980, District voters approved the call of a constitutional convention to draft a proposed state constitution, just as U.S. territories had done prior to their admission as states. The convention was held in February through April 1982. The proposed constitution was ratified by District voters in 1982 for a new state to be called "New Columbia". In 1987, another state constitution was drafted, which again referred to the proposed state as New Columbia. Since the 98th Congress, more than a dozen statehood bills have been introduced, with two bills being reported out of the committee of jurisdictions. The second of these bills made it to the House floor in November 1993, for the only floor debate and vote on D.C. statehood. It was defeated in the House of Representatives by a vote of 277 to 153.
Pursuant to the 1980 proposed state constitution, the District still selects members of a shadow congressional delegation, consisting of two shadow Senators and a shadow Representative, to lobby the Congress to grant statehood. These positions are not officially recognized by the Congress. Additionally, until May 2008, the Congress prohibited the District from spending any funds on lobbying for voting representation or statehood.
Since the 1993 vote, bills to grant statehood to the District have been introduced in Congress each year but have not been brought to a vote. Following a 2012 statehood referendum in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, political commentators endorsed the idea of admitting both the District and Puerto Rico into the Union.
In July 2014, President Barack Obama became the second sitting President, after Bill Clinton in 1993, to endorse statehood for the District of Columbia. In a town-hall event, he said "I'm for it." He added that "folks in D.C. pay taxes like everybody else, they contribute to the overall well being of the country like everybody else, they should be treated like everybody else," Obama said in response to a question. "There has been a long movement to get D.C. statehood and I've been for it for quite some time. The politics of it end up being difficult to get through Congress, but I think it's absolutely the right thing to do." D.C. residents now pay more in taxes than 22 states.
For more than 20 years following the 1993 floor vote, there were no congressional hearings on D.C. Statehood. But on September 15, 2014, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a hearing on bill S. 132, which would have created a new state out of the current District of Columbia, similar to the 1993 bill.
On December 4, 2015, the District of Columbia was granted membership in the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, an advocacy group for people groups and territories which do not receive full representation in the government of the state they reside in.
|District of Columbia statehood referendum, 2016|
|Location||District of Columbia|
|Date||November 8, 2016|
|Voting system||simple majority|
|Shall the voters of the District of Columbia advise the Council to approve or reject this proposal?|
On April 15, 2016, District Mayor Muriel Bowser called for a districtwide vote on whether the nation's capital should become the 51st state. This was followed by the release of a proposed state constitution. This constitution would make the Mayor of the District of Columbia the governor of the proposed state, while the members of the District Council would make up the proposed House of Delegates. While the name "New Columbia" has long been associated with the movement, community members thought other names, such as Potomac or Douglass, were more appropriate for the area.
On November 8, 2016, the voters of the District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood, with 86% of voters voting to advise approving the proposal. Although the proposed state name on the ballot sent to voters appeared as "State of New Columbia", the resolution passed by the D.C. District Council passed in October 2016, weeks before the election, changed the name to "State of Washington, D.C.", in which "D.C." stands for "Douglass Commonwealth", a reference to African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who lived in Washington, D.C. from 1877 to 1895.
In March 2017, the District's congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced a bill to propose DC statehood in the U.S. House of Representatives. In May 2017, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate.
In February 2019, the House Democratic leadership put its support behind legislation to grant D.C. statehood. Bill H.R. 1, which included a nonbinding expression of support, passed 234 to 193 in March 2019.
Prior to the District's founding, James Madison argued (in Federalist No. 43) that the national capital needed to be distinct from the states in order to provide for its own maintenance and safety. He wrote, "but a dependence of the members of the general government on the State comprehending the seat of the government, for protection in the exercise of their duty, might bring on the national councils an imputation of awe or influence, equally dishonorable to the government and dissatisfactory to the other members of the Confederacy."
More recently, opponents of D.C. statehood have expressed objections to statehood on the grounds that the federal government would be dependent on a single state for its security and operations, apart from its use of federal law enforcement bodies such as the Secret Service. The new state might enact policies inconsistent with operating the federal government for the benefit of the nation as a whole. The District would be far smaller than any other state by area and the District's population is smaller than all but two states, which could potentially expand the unfair influence in national politics that small states have.
Opponents argue that the newly formed state would also be unique in that interests would be dominated by those of the federal government, which would be the state's largest employer. It would also be the only state to have no rural residents and thus no need to consider the interests of non-urban areas. However, given that other states are dominated by rural areas with no significant urban population and there is no inherent value difference between an urban vs. rural voter, this argument is not commonly used. Some have expressed concern that the newly formed state might enact a commuter tax on non-residents that work in the District; such a tax is currently illegal under the District of Columbia Home Rule Act.
There is also a question as to whether granting statehood to the District would need the approval of Maryland. The U.S. Constitution requires that any new states formed from an existing state receive permission from the legislature. Since Maryland granted land to form the national capital and not a new state, some lawmakers have concluded that Maryland must also consent to the new state. However, Maryland's consent was not needed when a Potomac River island that was part of the Maryland cession was transferred to Virginia from D.C. in 1945. This island and surrounding mud flats had been filled in to create Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
The aforementioned District Clause of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress "exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever" over the District that serves as the nation's capital. This is inconsistent with being on equal footing with all other states. The statehood legislation supported by the District government and some House Democrats gets around this by carving out an enclave within the proposed state, encompassing the White House, Capitol Building, Supreme Court Building, and other major federal offices, to act as the new District of Columbia for constitutional purposes.
Alternate proposals to statehood have been proposed to grant the District varying degrees of greater political autonomy and voting representation in the Congress. Most proposals generally involve either treating District of Columbia more like a state or allowing the state of Maryland to take back the land it donated to form the District.
If both the Congress and the Maryland state legislature agreed, jurisdiction over the District of Columbia could be returned to Maryland or given to Virginia if the state legislature of Virginia agreed, possibly excluding a small tract of land immediately surrounding the United States Capitol, the White House and the Supreme Court building. This process is known as retrocession. If the District were returned to Maryland or given to Virginia, citizens in D.C. would gain voting representation in the Congress as residents of Maryland or Virginia. Further, although the U.S. Constitution does not specify a minimum size for the District, retrocession may require a constitutional amendment, as the District's role as the seat of government is mandated by the Constitution's District Clause. Retrocession could also alter the idea of a separate national capital as envisioned by the Founding Fathers.
A proposal related to retrocession was the "District of Columbia Voting Rights Restoration Act of 2004" (H.R. 3709), which would have treated the residents of the District as residents of Maryland for the purposes of congressional representation. Maryland's congressional delegation would then be apportioned accordingly to include the population of the District. Those in favor of such a plan argue that the Congress already has the necessary authority to pass such legislation without the constitutional concerns of other proposed remedies. From the foundation of the District in 1790 until the passage of the Organic Act of 1801, citizens living in D.C. continued to vote for members of Congress in Maryland or Virginia; legal scholars therefore propose that the Congress has the power to restore those voting rights while maintaining the integrity of the federal district. However, the proposed legislation never made it out of committee and would not grant the District any additional authority over its local affairs.
Several bills have been introduced in Congress to grant the District of Columbia voting representation in one or both houses of Congress. The primary issue with all legislative proposals is whether the Congress has the constitutional authority to grant the District voting representation. Members of Congress in support of the bills claim that constitutional concerns should not prohibit the legislation's passage, but rather should be left to the courts. A secondary criticism of a legislative remedy is that any law granting representation to the District could be undone in the future. Additionally, recent legislative proposals deal with granting representation in the House of Representatives only, which would still leave the issue of Senate representation for District residents unresolved. Thus far, no bill granting the District voting representation has successfully passed both houses of Congress. If a bill were to pass, the law would not grant the District any additional authority over its local affairs.
Leading supporters of DC Statehood include most of the organizations that led the civil and voting rights movement of the 1960s. It is viewed as the logical extension of the expansion of voting rights that has occurred over the course of American history. Democrats are thought to favor statehood over retrocession, as it would most likely add new Democratic seats in the United States Senate. Some Republicans, in turn, have opposed enfranchisement for the American citizens in DC based on the expected political disadvantage to them. Neither statehood nor retrocession are top priorities by Democrats or Republicans.
Religious groups supporting DC statehood include the American Jewish Committee, the Episcopal Church, the Union for Reform Judaism, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, and the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Statehood is a cause for many labor and civil rights groups including American Federation of Teachers, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP, National Treasury Employees Union, National Urban League, and SEIU.
Recent Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have expressed support for statehood, as well as Democratic 2016 Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders - a co-sponsor of the 2015 New Columbia Admission Act, and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. Maryland's Senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both Democrats, are co-sponsors of a September 2014 D.C. statehood bill.
The local D.C. Republican Party has been a long-standing supporter of voting rights for the District of Columbia. However, nationally-based Republicans have often been steadfast in their opposition to D.C. statehood. The 2016 Republican Party Platform advocated D.C. remain a district. The Platform stated statehood for D.C. can only be advanced by a constitutional amendment, citing any other means would be 'invalid'. The Platform states the last constitutional amendment proposal was 'soundly rejected' by the states in 1976, and 'should not be revived'.
In November 2000, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing license plates bearing the slogan "Taxation without representation". President Bill Clinton had these plates placed on the presidential limousines shortly before the end of his second term. However, President George W. Bush, in one of his first official acts as president, had the plates removed. The usage of "taxation without representation" plates was restored by President Barack Obama shortly before his second-term inauguration. President Donald Trump continued to use the plates, though he stated he had "no position" regarding statehood or representation for the District.
A September 2014 poll found that 49% of Americans opposed DC Statehood, while only 27% supported it. 53% of Independents and 67% of Republicans opposed it, but only 33% of Democrats did. However, when asked if DC should be represented as voters in other states are, by a voting Representative and two Senators, 37% said yes and 31% said no. Other polling from the 1990s showed stronger support. A 1999 poll showed that 46% of Americans would support statehood.
I believe this passage would require that, at the minimum, Maryland, as well as the Congress consent to any legislation designed to grant statehood to the District of Columbia
A referendum on statehood for Washington, D.C. was held on November 8, 2016. It was the second referendum on statehood to be held in the district. The District of Columbia was created following the passage of the Residence Act on July 9, 1790, which approved the creation of a national capital on the Potomac River.
Washington voters were asked to advise the Council to approve or reject a proposal, which included advising the council to petition Congress to admit the District as the 51st State and to approve a constitution and boundaries for the new state. The voters of the District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly to advise the Council to approve the proposal, with 86% of voters voting to advise approving the proposal.