The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion D.C. statehood is a nonpartisan issue

Advocates for statehood for the District of Columbia rally near the Capitol prior to a House of Representatives hearing on creating a 51st state on March 22.
Advocates for statehood for the District of Columbia rally near the Capitol prior to a House of Representatives hearing on creating a 51st state on March 22. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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As a longtime D.C. resident, I read with interest George F. Will’s April 22 op-ed, “The D.C. statehood pretense.” He correctly observed that leading Democrats only recently decided to pursue statehood for D.C., but played down the fact that we spent decades pursuing constitutional amendments to remedy the problem. That’s why Democrats didn’t pass statehood in 2009. At that time, not enough people had given up on changing the Constitution and concluded that statehood, despite its flaws, was the only way to move forward. The D.C. electorate’s partisan tilt hasn’t changed in the past 12 years, so partisanship provides an unconvincing explanation for why Democrats’ proposed remedy has.

Mr. Will repeated a common mistake when he says the Constitution “mandated creation of a seat of the federal government.” In fact, the Constitution says Congress “may” create such a district, not shall, and therefore no such district is required. It is optional and could readily be abolished. Doing so would eliminate the problem Mr. Will identified with the 23rd Amendment and should be incorporated into statehood legislation.

Richard Mereand, Washington

George F. Will’s column arguing the 23rd Amendment poses a barrier to congressional legislation on D.C. statehood gets the law wrong. H.R. 51, landmark legislation the House passed last week, would create a new state — with the same powers of the 50 existing states — and give its residents the same voting rights as the residents of any other state.

H.R. 51 leaves in place a small federal seat of power — and the 23rd Amendment, which gave D.C. residents the opportunity to vote in presidential elections. The bill does not, cannot and need not repeal that amendment. Instead, it simply creates an expedited process for repealing the 23rd Amendment, and cleans up federal law with the goal of ensuring that residents of the small remaining federal enclave — made up of Congress, the White House and the National Mall — do not have a disproportionately large say in presidential elections.

Residents who live in the remaining parts of D.C. deserve the right to participate fully in our democracy through statehood. Congress can do it through legislation, as it has done dozens of times in the past.

H.R. 51 is constitutional and good policy. The Senate should pass its companion legislation.

Karl A. Racine, Washington

The writer, a Democrat, is the
D.C. attorney general.

 The concept of a separate territorial enclave to house the critical components of the federal government was intended by the framers of the Constitution to allow the federal government to operate without interference from political subdivisions such as state or local governments. The Framers, concerned as they were with creating a document that ensured that every U.S. citizen would have certain inalienable rights — including the right to vote — did not intend to create a disenfranchised group of U.S. citizens based on the proximity of their homes to the physical location of federal government buildings.

As a D.C. resident, I’m sick and tired of people such as George F. Will using the lamentable partisan underpinnings of most D.C. statehood arguments to obscure the real issue: I am denied the right to vote for representatives in the legislative body that enacts the laws that I am required to live by. Worse yet, this same Congress in which I lack any representation also has the power to determine how my local tax dollars are spent by my local government. No other U.S. citizens are forced to accept this very un-American domination and control by the federal government.

Steven Keller, Washington

George F. Will appeared to find that the constitutional right to representation inheres in the soil of a state, not its people. How else can he think that D.C., which has twice as many voters as Wyoming but a lot less territory, is less entitled to representation than that state — which is, entirely coincidentally, the most Republican state? 

He also thinks that the state of Maryland could be required by constitutional amendment, against its wishes, to include people in D.C. — which is not in Maryland — in its voter rolls. This is a profoundly unconservative proposal, involving not just a constitutional innovation but an unheard-of extension of federal power over states. Perhaps he could point to a previous case where a state was forced to include on its voter rolls people outside its borders who had perhaps never resided in nor had any connection with the state? If that constitutional precedent were to be established, I have another idea: Make Wyoming accept the voters of Puerto Rico.

Robert Dennis, Potomac

George F. Will argued that Democrats would not espouse the cause of D.C. statehood if its residents weren’t mostly Democrats. He neglected to mention that Republicans would embrace D.C. statehood if its voters favored Republicans.

Mr. Will suggested that attaching D.C. to Maryland would overcome the “no taxation without representation” argument. He failed to mention Republican manipulation in the 1880s, splitting the Dakota Territory into two states to please business interests, and gaining four Republican senators and two Republican representatives in the process. Shortly thereafter, Wyoming and Montana were admitted as states, also because they were majority Republican, though they lacked the population recommended for statehood.

If adding D.C.’s 700,000 residents to Maryland’s 6 million, totaling 6.7 million, can be justified, why not also combine Wyoming’s 581,000 with Montana’s 1 million, resulting in “Montoming” with 1.6 million residents? Or just merge the Dakotas for a total of 1.6 million?

Maria RobertsGaithersburg

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