District of Columbia statehood movement
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, Washington, D.C. 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. If achieved, the new state would be named New Columbia.
Statehood for the District could potentially be achieved by an act of Congress using the power granted under Article Four, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. However, there is some debate as to whether simple legislation would be sufficient to grant statehood to the seat of government.
[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.
In 1790, the land on which the District is formed was ceded by Maryland following the passage of the Residence Act. Virginia also ceded land that helped form the District, but that land was returned to Virginia in 1847. The Congress did not officially move to the new federal capital until 1800. Shortly thereafter, the 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, its residents lost voting representation in the Congress.
Residents of Washington, D.C., were also originally barred from voting for the President of the United States. This changed after the passage of the Twenty-third Amendment in 1961, which grants the District three votes in the Electoral College. This right has been exercised by D.C. citizens since the presidential election of 1964.
The District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973 devolved certain congressional powers over the District to a local government administered by an elected mayor, currently Vincent C. Gray, and the thirteen-member Council of the District of Columbia. However, the Congress retains the right to review and overturn any of the District's laws. Each of the city's eight wards elects a single member of the council, and five members, including the chairman, are elected at large.
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 proposed constitution was ratified by District voters in 1982 for a new state to be called "New Columbia".
Pursuant to that 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.
The campaign for statehood stalled after the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment failed in 1985 because it did not receive the required ratification by the legislatures of at least 38 of the 50 states within the required seven years of the amendment's submission by the 95th Congress. In 1987, another state constitution was drafted, which again referred to the proposed state as New Columbia - the name is still closely associated with the movement today. The last serious debate on the issue in Congress took place in November 1993, when D.C. statehood was defeated in the House of Representatives by a vote of 277 to 153.
Since then, 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 have endorsed the idea of admitting both the District and Puerto Rico into the Union, following a tradition of U.S. states entering as pairs.
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. 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 city's population is smaller than all but two states, which could potentially grant the District unfair influence in national politics.
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, making the proposal unpopular in states with large rural populations. Some have expressed concern that the newly formed state might enact a commuter tax on non-residents that work in the city; 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.
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 D.C. 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, 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, citizens in D.C. would gain voting representation in the Congress as residents of Maryland. The main problem with any of these proposals is that the state of Maryland does not currently want to take the District back.[better source needed] 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.
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 announced to be restored by President Barack Obama shortly before his second-term inauguration.
- District of Columbia home rule
- District of Columbia voting rights
- History of Washington, D.C.
- 51st state
- Puerto Rico statehood movement
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- Post article
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