As bad idea after bad idea issues from the Biden White House and the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, one feels the decidedly adolescent impulse to roll one’s eyes and go “ugh. We’ve TALKED about this.”
Packing the courts? We’ve talked about this. Abolishing the Electoral College? We’ve talked about that, too. And making D.C. a State? Gahh, we have definitely already talked about this one, MOM.
All of these dreadful suggestions have been floated again and again throughout our history, then crushed under the weight of their manifold logical and constitutional flaws. More often than not their own supporters have come to realize that whoops, this was actually not such a great idea after all, and their brilliant new idea was actually just the same old bad idea. We have, I say once again, talked about this.
In the case of DC statehood — now a favorite pet project of our leftist ruling class — the answer should be obvious. It’s flatly unconstitutional. But apparently that’s not obvious, so (*sigh*) here we go.
The basic argument in favor of statehood, articulated in rather inelegant prose on the government website of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, is that D.C.’s current status — as a federal district with no congressional representatives — constitutes an instance of taxation without representation. D.C. residents “bear the responsibilities of citizenship, including taxation and Selective Service registration [the draft], without sharing in the full rights and privileges of citizenship [like the right to vote for Senators and Representatives].”
And of course this has been very effectively folded into the obsessively racialized rhetoric which now characterizes the Democrat Party line. So Bowser makes all the obligatory mentions of the “systemic inequality” to which “residents of Washington, D.C. have been subjected.” This is a “great historic wrong” because “Washington, D.C. is a historically Black city and Black people still make 47% of the population.”
From a constitutional standpoint, of course, that’s a complete irrelevancy: it has absolutely nothing to do with why the Constitution says D.C. can’t be a state, why history has validated the wisdom of the Founders on this point, or why Republicans and people with brains are agreed that making D.C. a state is a nakedly partisan ploy. But pretending that everything is about race has proven successful as a tactic for the Dems so far — can’t blame them for sticking with what works.
In actual fact, however (for those of us still interested in such arcane things as facts), here is what the Constitution says on this point (Article 1, Section 8):
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, 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.
In other words, there is to be no intermediate authority between the Federal government and the places where the power of the Federal government sits. A state is an intermediate authority, one which rules a given territory and may put checks on Federal power. So there is no state power between the Federal government and the place where it lives.
You accept this when you decide to live in D.C. It’s a necessity and it’s part of the deal. In fact, since 1961, when Congress passed the 23rd Amendment, D.C. residents have had it easier than they otherwise would: they can vote in presidential elections, for the sole purposes of which they are counted as a mock state with 3 electoral votes.
And of course D.C. citizens have always been allowed local municipal government, which is why they get to do stupid things like elect Muriel Bowser as mayor. They can run their own affairs when those affairs don’t pertain to national rule. What they’re not allowed to do is count themselves as an independent authority with national representation — they’re not allowed to be a state. The Capitol is run by Congress, and them’s the breaks. Don’t like it? Move to Maryland.
Why D.C. Makes Sense As-Is
There are excellent reasons for this. The most important of them are summarized by James Madison in a nifty paragraph from Federalist #43. Madison basically thought it should have been obvious why you need “complete authority at the seat of government.” That sweet summer child. But he still did us the courtesy of explaining, for which our degraded age thanks him.
Madison points out that direct authority over its local environs “is a power exercised by every legislature of the Union. I might say the world, by virtue of its general supremacy.” This is just how things work: state legislatures get to control their territory, so the federal government gets to control its territory. This is because:
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.
In other words, if you create a political institution which regulates the management of territory and resources upon which the federal government depends, then you essentially give a local body control and bargaining power over the highest authority in the land. A D.C. state, despite its tiny size (a little over 700,000 people—less than live in Rhode Island) would exercise a staggering and unaccountable power. It would potentially have leverage to frustrate the daily operations of Congress itself.
What Democrats Really Want
All this gives us some clues about what the Left is really after here. D.C. is bright blue. They’d reliably elect two Democrats to the Senate, which could easily tip the balance there in partisan times like ours. But perhaps even more importantly, turning D.C. into a state immediately creates a leftist seat of power right where the federal government operates. It’s like a Democrat chokehold on an area that’s supposed to belong to the entire country.
This shows you why a supposedly nifty little Constitutional loophole, which House legislators think they’ve found, is pure meaningless pedantry. The bill to make D.C. a state, which has passed the House but will almost certainly founder in the Senate, maintains a nominal district over which the Federal government would still have power. It just makes that district vanishingly small: the bill would reduce federal jurisdiction to the area just around the National Mall, the White House, and Capitol hill — where, in the words of CNN’s Zachary Wolf, “pretty much nobody but the President lives.”
But Federalist #43 makes perfectly clear that merely having some tiny patch of land where the feds technically rule is not the point of what the Constitution says. For real “authority at the seat of government,” Congress needs to have control over the actual area where it’s situated — not just a few buildings in the middle of that area. This is about who gets power, simple as that. And the Democrats — surprise! — want that power for their own. The Constitution plainly says it isn’t theirs.
Calling Their Bluff
There’s another way you can tell this is a pure ploy to get more blue votes. Senator Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas, introduced another bill that would make D.C. into part of Maryland instead of a separate state unto itself. This solution — giving D.C. to Maryland rather than making it a state — is called “retrocession.”
Now, Maryland doesn’t really want D.C. — can you blame them? According to a 2016 Public Policy Polling survey, 44% of Maryland voters said they’d rather not annex the nation’s capital, thank you very much, as compared with 28% who approved. But retrocession would totally eliminate the whole “taxation without representation” argument. It wouldn’t fix the Constitutional problem, and as we’ve already seen the whole representation complaint is bogus to begin with. But Marshall is basically asking Democrats a question: if taxation without representation is your problem, why doesn’t becoming part of Maryland solve it?
Because shut up, that’s why. Democrats have no answer to that question, and they don’t care. Mayor Bowser (remember her?) addressed the issue briefly in a 2019 speech. Her only argument was that “DC voters have already said loud and clear that we do not want retrocession, we want statehood.” The way she pretended this matters was by pointing out (accurately) that Article 4, Section 3 of the Constitution says the following:
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.
But of course, D.C. as currently constituted isn’t a state, or even part of a state. That’s the whole point. D.C.’s vote on this — expressly, according to the Constitution — doesn’t count. Only Maryland’s state legislature, and Congress, count. If they voted to retrocede, that would be that.
Power, Power, Power
But let me let you in on a depressing secret: Democrats don’t care about any of this. They’re not here to have a conversation, or to make arguments in good faith, or to serve the interests of the Americans they claim to champion. They’re here to win, and winning for them means reshaping the country until they rule it unilaterally.
That’s the point. What the Left would love to do is carve up the country in such a way that they get maximal blue votes with minimal input from legitimate American voters. They’re perfectly willing to ship in illegal immigrants to do it. They’re more than happy to drive people to the polls and or fill in their mail-in ballots with them to make sure they vote the right way. And they’re just waiting for a chance to conjure congressional votes out of thin air, until those big swaths of red in the middle of the country don’t matter and the whole thing can be one-party rule, forever.
Now, we’re not there yet. The Senate (thank God) will likely smack this thing down, and despite a dedicated misinformation campaign from every legacy media outlet, not everyone is hoodwinked by Democrat race-baiting on this issue. But those are the stakes, and that’s what D.C. statehood is about: not representation, or fairness, or democracy, or whatever other meaningless shibboleth they throw at it. This is about control, and about undermining the delicate constitutional system which makes us a true republic. Anyone who loves that system, and wants to live in such a nation — fragile though it is these days — should laugh the idea of D.C. statehood to scorn.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.