WHAT IT IS
Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States. [Encyclopedia Britannica]
D.C. has one representative in the House of Representatives that is unable to vote. There is no representation for D.C. in the Senate.
D.C. residents pay federal taxes yet have no voting representation in Congress. [NPR]
This has prompted many Americans to question, should D.C. residents gain equal representation through statehood?
The District's fight for equal representation:
1787: The U.S. Constitution created the nation's capital to be an independent, neutral entity controlled by Congress.
- 1802: Congress granted D.C. a mayor and city council, elected by the president.
- 1820: Congress amended D.C.'s governance to grant white, male property owners the ability to vote for the mayor and city council.
- 1961: The 23rd Amendment was ratified, giving D.C. residents the right to vote in presidential elections.
- 1971: President Nixon allowed for popular elections of a mayor and a city council with four-year terms. This is the current structure in place.
- 1978: Congress passed another amendment, giving D.C. seats and voting power in the Senate and the House. The amendment was not adopted as only 16 states ratified the amendment.
- 1993: The House of Representatives voted on D.C. statehood. The proposal failed.
WHY IT MATTERS
CIVICS: Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states the national capital would not be part of a state nor treated as a state, but a unique enclave under the exclusive authority of Congress — a neutral ‘district’ in which representatives of all the states could meet on an equal footing to conduct the nation’s business. [The Boston Globe]
SOCIAL: The spark of the American Revolution was taxation without representation. Why has our democracy allowed D.C. residents to be taxed without proper representation?
Taxation without representation
D.C.’s population (700,000+) is larger than that of Wyoming or Vermont.
In total, D.C. residents pay more federal taxes than 22 states. [The Washington Post]
The taxpaying citizens of the District have no voting representation in Congress.
The elected official to the House of Representatives has the ability to lobby - they cannot vote and there is no representative in the Senate.
D.C. residents have fought and died in every war, yet those armed service members are denied the freedoms they have fought to protect.
Keeping it neutral
The proposal for statehood allows the core of the capital to remain a district. This area encompasses the spread of federal buildings in the city’s core.
The remainder of the current district would become the 51st state of "New Columbia", offering voting representation in the House and Senate to its more than 700,000 residents. [Brookings]
Many argue that the Founding Fathers understood they could not see into the future of the country, therefore, set up a process for amending or changing the constitution.
For example, in 1961, the 23rd amendment was ratified, granting D.C. residents the right to vote in presidential elections.
The Founding Fathers believed the nation's capital should be a neutral district under the authority of Congress in which representatives of all the states could meet on an equal footing to conduct the nation’s business. [The Boston Globe]
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution explicitly outlines this founding principle for the District.
Constitutional scholar, Jonathan Turley, testified at a 2007 congressional hearing that the framers of the Constitution “repeatedly stated that the District would be represented by the entire Congress and that members . . . would bear a special interest in its operations.”
Republican leaders, including President Trump, have argued that Democrats are only supporting D.C. statehood in order to gain more seats in Congress. 76% of registered voters in D.C. are Democrats. [The Washington Post]
Back to basics
Parts of D.C. were originally carved out of the state of Maryland. Some argue for those areas of the District not to become its own state, but rather go back under Maryland state jurisdiction. [The Los Angeles Times]
WHERE WE ARE NOW
- June 26, 2020: The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted 232-180 in favor of granting Washington, D.C. statehood. The proposed state name is "New Columbia." [NPR]
- The Republican-controlled Senate will now decide the fate of the measure. The Senate is expected to either indefinitely delay vote on the proposal or vote against D.C. statehood. [Vox]
- A 2020 YouGov poll found registered voters split on statehood. [YouGov]
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
- D.C. license plates boldly list "taxation without representation." Is this a form of activism?
- According to a 2019 Gallup poll, a majority of Americans favor statehood for Puerto Rico. Should the U.S. continue to have control over territories like Puerto Rico?
- Contact your representative to voice your support for or against D.C. statehood.
- In 2005, the Dalai Lama publicly wondering why "small pocket" of people living in the world's "champion of democracy, liberty, and freedom" lacked full voting rights and representation in Congress.