Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Voting representation for D.C.

This WaPo article describes this report on the constitutionality of giving voting representation to the District of Columbia in the House. Apparently, Kenneth Starr and Viet Dinh think the proposal passes constitutional muster. I’m dubious. My proposal (not altogether tongue-in-cheek): give the District back to Maryland, and handle the representation of its residents that way. I don’t favor the constitutional novelty of a city that’s not quite a state, and would rather return to the status quo ante, if we’re no longer going to have special federal district.

Discussions - 8 Comments

I think that because D.C. is the seat of the federal government it should remain a federal district. I think we either give D.C. a vote in the House, or make it so that federal taxes (and perhaps in some federal laws) don’t apply to them. "No taxation without representation" is not a cry that should still be heard in America. If the legislation granting them a vote does not stand up in a court due to its constitutionality, then set in motion an amendment to the Constitution.

D.C. was carved out of the wilderness--and two states, "South" & "North"--specifically to be a neutral meeting place. It was purposefully not accorded status as a state by the Constitution. It took a Constitutional amendment in 1962 to let the voters cast presidential votes. If they want statehood and thereby votes in Congress, it will also require an Amendment, not a mere statute. This is a simple power grab.

Perhaps we should move the capitol to geographic center of the nation in some Kansas wheatfield and let DC devolve to Va. & Md.. Not that Kansas has done anything to deserve such an awful fate.


If you look at a map, you’ll see that the Virginia part of the original District is across the Potomac from D.C. All of the current District came from Maryland.


DC could, in fact, be made a state via statute. The Constitution says that the federal district comprising the seat of government may be 10 miles square, not that it *must* be ten miles square. As Joe points out, part of the 100 square miles was lopped off via retrocession to Virginia in the 1840s. The federal district could shrink to an area where there are no residents: the Capitol, White House, Federal Triangle, etc. The rest could be made a state. The real question is whether this is a good idea politically. Personally, I say no. There is really no precedent for a state that’s such a political mono-culture as Washington, DC, not to mention that they’re be a rep. and two senators permanently in the back pocket of government worker unions. The alternative is retrocession of the non-federal part to Maryland, but Maryland’s permission would be required and that would be a tough sell, for a variety of reasons. Maryland already has one urban basketcase (Baltimore) and I doubt the powers-that-be there would like to share that dubious honor with Washington. Suburban politicos wouldn’t like it much either, as it dilutes their power bases.

As a followup to my earlier post, a constitution for the State of New Columbia was in fact ratified by voters back in the 1980s. As far as I know, it’s still in effect and ready to go if and when Congress votes to admit that state to the Union.

In the original post, Joe describes DC as neither fish nor fowl, not really a state, (and not a territory either, like Guam) but saddled with lots of state-like functions. At the same time the DC home rule government has little of the flexibility accorded to the states (the laboratories of democracy) to innovate. Statehood advocates will tell you about the hundreds of instances in federal law where DC is treated like a statem, and expected to perform as such, without many of the tools the states have.

Thanks, Prof. K. But it makes the case for statehood even weaker. The precedent is devolution, not statehood. It seems to me unconstitutional for Congress to accept territory ceded from a state for a specific Constitutional purpose and later hand back soverignty not to the original state, but to a spanking new state. It is one thing for Congress to admit states--it’s quite another to create them and then admit them in a partisan legislature-packing scheme. It may also violate the "within the jurisdiction of any other state" language of Sect. 3.

Section 8. The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes...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 ... ..............Section 3. New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress. ............Section 1. 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; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the states, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a state; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties..."


How about West Virginia, a state jerrymander writ large? It is questionable that Virginia consented to it. As a fig leaf, a rump Va. legislature meeting in the western counties did give its assent.

There is ample precedent for creating new states out of the territory of other states, with their permission. After the revolution the eastern seaboard states ceded their western lands and from those sprang new states. Kentucky out of Virginia, Tennessee out of North Carolina, Ohio out of lands variously claimed by Connecticut, Virginia, and so forth. There is also the case of Vermont, created from territory claimed by New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York.

As I wrote above, it is unlikely that Maryland would want to reclaim its part of the District, for the reasons I enumerated. Having lawfully ceded the territory in 1790s, I don’t see a legal mechanism for foisting the City of Washington back on an unwilling State of Maryland. Retrocession would require Maryland’s assent, just as the Virginia retrocession in 1846 did. The territory would then lie unclaimed by any state (just like the western lands cited above) and therefore ripe to join the Union, the other population and constitutional conditions having been met.

Phil, West Virginia? Oh--you mean the Robert C. Byrd Memorial State of West Virginia.

"no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state"-- a DC state would have been formed entirely out of what was formerly Maryland and would be surrounded (on land at least) by Maryland (and the remaining federal district). That seems disqualifying to me.

Wouldn’t it also require the repeal of the 23rd Amd.? That cannot be done by statute. Could Philadelphia be made a state if all parties consented? Suppose Congress closed a military base or half of a base--could those become states? In any event, no one has been forced to live in DC for a century and a half. This is a case of politicians electing their people.

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