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Making D.C. a State

There was a senate hearing last month on a bill that would make the District of Columbia a state. Only two senators bothered to show up, a good indication of how far this bill is likely to go. Washington is an overwhelmingly Democratic city and Republicans are not going to vote to establish two permanently Democratic seats in the Senate.

The problem is that the 646,000 residents of D.C. have no representation in Congress. They have a delegate in the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton, but she cannot vote. That’s not fair. But making D.C. a state would not be fair either. D.C. is not a state, it’s a city, and a quintessential company town at that, existing of, by, and for the federal government. Why should Washington have two senators all its own when every other city in the country, including the 22 that are larger than Washington, has to share its senators with an entire, and often very diverse state? Over-representation is not the solution to under-representation.

One solution would be “retrocession,” returning all but the ceremonial heart of the city to the state of Maryland. The Virginia portion of the District (where Arlington and the Pentagon are located) was returned to that state in 1846.

A better solution would be a constitutional amendment that would repeal the 23rd Amendment that, in 1961, gave the District three electors in presidential elections.  Then it would say something like, “For purposes of federal elections only, the citizens of the district constituting the seat of government of the United States shall be regarded as being citizens of the state that ceded the land constituting the district.”

That would give Washingtonians the same representation in Congress that all other citizens have. It would also reduce the number of presidential electoral votes to 535 from 538, making, at least in a two-person race, a tie vote highly unlikely. A tie vote in the Electoral College sends the matter to the House, where, under Article II, Section 1, every state would have one vote. That would give, say, South Dakota, as big a voice in electing a president as California. How’s that for unfair?



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One Response to “Making D.C. a State”

  1. BEN ORLANSKI says:

    You can do better than “That’s not fair.” If ever there were a case where “that’s not fair” is a bad argument, this is it. A good argument can be made that the arrangements in DC are overly fair to the residents owing to the massive subsidies it receives by being part of the capital. If you are going to use fairness, it has to take account of the entire situation and not pick at one small slice of it. Granted, you note that there is some unfairness in DC becoming a state, but may I humbly suggest that fairness is the least useful framework for decision on an issue like this (and often generally). You also fail to really look at the political ramifications of your plans, but that is curious because those ramifications could also implicate your favored framework of “fairness.”

    All in all, one of your weaker posts, sad to say.




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