District of Columbia statehood movement

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"New Columbia" redirects here. For other uses, see New Columbia (disambiguation).

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. It has been proposed that the 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.


DC Statehood Now! flag at Inauguration 2013
The U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry has designed this 51-star version of the national flag for use in the event that a 51st state is admitted into the Union.

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 capitol. As 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.[1]

The "District Clause" in Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the United States Constitution states:

[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 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.[2]

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.[3] 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."[2]

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."[4] 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.[5] At that time, resolutions were introduced by Congress to retrocede most of Washington 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."[6]

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 1950's. 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. However that amendment expired in 1985, 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,[7] 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".[8] In 1987, another state constitution[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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, following a tradition of U.S. states entering as pairs.[13][14]

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."[15][16]

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.[17]

Arguments against[edit]

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."[18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23]


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.[24] If the District were returned to Maryland, citizens in D.C. would gain voting representation in the Congress as residents of Maryland. District citizens are overwhelmingly opposed to this idea.[25][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.[19][25] Retrocession could also alter the idea of a separate national capital as envisioned by the Founding Fathers.[26]

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.[27] 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.[28] However, the proposed legislation never made it out of committee and would not grant the District any additional authority over its local affairs.[27]

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.[29] 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.[30] 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.

Political support[edit]

Democrats are thought to favor statehood over retrocession, as it would most likely add new Democratic seats in the United States Senate.[31] Neither statehood nor retrocession are top priorities by Democrats and Republicans.[31][32]


Recent Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have expressed support for statehood, as well as Democratic 2016 Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders[33] - a co-sponsor of the 2015 New Columbia Admission Act, and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley.[34] Maryland's Senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both Democrats, are co-sponsors of a September 2014 D.C. statehood bill.[31][32]

License plates[edit]

In November 2000, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing license plates bearing the slogan "Taxation without representation".[35] 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.[36] The usage of "taxation without representation" plates was announced to be restored by President Barack Obama shortly before his second-term inauguration.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007: Hearing Notes. DIANE publishing. March 14, 2007. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-4223-2085-3. 
  2. ^ a b Forbes-Lindsay, C. H. (1908). Washington: The City and Seat of Government (PDF). Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Co. p. 110. Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  3. ^ "Statement on the subject of The District of Columbia Fair and Equal Voting Rights Acts" (PDF). American Bar Association. September 14, 2006. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  4. ^ Woodward, Augustus (1801). Considerations on the government of the Territory of Columbia : as they appeared in the National intelligencer. Washington, DC: Samuel Harrison Smith. 
  5. ^ Hatch, Orrin (1978). "Should the Capital Vote in Congress? A Critical Analysis of the Proposed D.C. Representation Amendment". Fordham Urban Law Journal 7 (3): 495. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  6. ^ Congressional Record, 1805: 979-980.
  7. ^ Washington, DC Statehood Constitutional Convention Records, Special Collections Research Center, Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, The George Washington University
  8. ^ "DC Statehood: a Chronology". DC Statehood Green Party. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  9. ^ Constitution for the State of New Columbia (enacted 1987). Westlaw. Archived July 31, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007: Hearing before the Committee of the Judiciary. March 14, 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  11. ^ Sheridan, Mary Beth (2008-05-29). "D.C. Seeks to Fund Lobbying Effort for a Voting House Member". The Washington Post. pp. B01. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  12. ^ Greenwood, Arin (20 December 2012). "D.C. Statehood: Senate Bill By Joe Lieberman Would Make 'New Columbia' 51st State". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  13. ^ Plotkin, Mark (23 November 2012). "A good deal for the District and Puerto Rico". The Washington Post. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  14. ^ Miller, Mark (11 February 2012). "Puerto Rico referendum could revitalize D.C. statehood debate". The Washington Times. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  15. ^ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/21/obama-dc-statehood_n_5606737.html
  16. ^ http://www.usatoday.com/story/theoval/2014/07/21/president-obama-dc-statehood-position/12949055/
  17. ^ Simpson, Ian. "Senate holds hearing on District of Columbia statehood". Reuters. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  18. ^ Madison, James (April 30, 1996). "The Federalist No. 43". The Independent Journal. Library of Congress. Retrieved May 31, 2008. 
  19. ^ a b Pate, Hewitt R. (1993-08-27). "D.C. Statehood: Not Without a Constitutional Amendment". The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  20. ^ DC Statehood makes No Sense
  21. ^ Post article
  22. ^ Eric M. Weiss, D.C.'s Bid To Impose Commuter Tax Denied, The Washington Post, Saturday, November 5, 2005; Page A01
  23. ^ Health, United States. Congress. House. Committee on the District of Columbia. Subcommittee on Fiscal Affairs and (1987). D.C. statehood: hearings and markups before the Subcommittee on Fiscal Affairs and Health of the Committee on the District of Columbia, House of Representatives, One Hundredth Congress, first session, on H.R. 51 .... U.S. G.P.O. p. 401. Retrieved January 16, 2013. 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 
  24. ^ "District of Columbia-Maryland Reunion Act (110th Congress, H.R. 1858)". GovTrack. 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  25. ^ a b "Q&A with Rep. Tom Davis". The Washington Post. 1998-03-03. Archived from the original on February 24, 1999. Retrieved January 26, 2013. 
  26. ^ Madison, James (1996-04-30). "The Federalist No. 43". The Independent Journal. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2008-05-31. 
  27. ^ a b "District of Columbia Voting Rights Restoration Act of 2004 (108th Congress, H.R. 3709)". GovTrack. 2004. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  28. ^ Rohrabacher, Dana (2004-06-23). "Testimony before the Committee on Government Reform" (PDF). DC Vote. Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  29. ^ "Lieberman Deeply Disappointed By Failure To Secure 60 Votes For Equal Representation For D.C. Citizens". Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT). 2007-09-18. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  30. ^ Turley, Jonathan (2007-08-20). "D.C. Vote in Congress: House Judiciary Committee". Statement for the Record, Legislative Hearing on H.R. 5388. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  31. ^ a b c McCartney, Robert. "Critics of D.C. statehood cite specious objections, such as Grave Snowplow Threat.". The Washington Post. 
  32. ^ a b Davis, Aaron. "Congress takes up bill to make D.C. the 51st state". The Washington Post. 
  33. ^ "Bernie Sanders supports bill for DC statehood". 
  34. ^ "Norton: Hillary Clinton Supports D.C. Statehood". Washington City Paper. 
  35. ^ Chan, Sewell (November 5, 2000). "Message Gets Rolling; D.C. Government Enlists Residents' Vehicles In Campaign for Congressional Representation". The Washington Post. p. C01. Retrieved August 6, 2008. 
  36. ^ "Transition in Washington; Political License Plate Is Out, Bush Says". The New York Times. January 19, 2001. Retrieved August 6, 2008. 
  37. ^ Craig, Tim (January 15, 2013). "Obama to use D.C. ‘taxation without representation’ license plates". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 16, 2013. 

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