The New Path to DC Statehood

Washington DC statehood

As you’ve possibly heard by now, Joe Manchin said he isn’t going to vote in favor of a bill to make Washington DC the 51st state in the union.

That is definitely a setback, but by no means is that the end of the road for this important goal. Over 700,000 DC residents have no voice in Congress, despite paying taxes. You can read more about why DC isn’t already a state and why that needs to change HERE.

I’ll jump into how we move past this bump in the road to achieve full representation for DC residents in a bit. But first, I’m going to look at some of the other potential roadblocks.

Whenever I bring up the issue of DC statehood on social media, I get people pushing back to say that it’s not allowable under the Constitution. Now mind you, not a single one of those folks is a constitutional scholar. And neither am I. But, I can read up on what constitutional scholars ARE saying. There are 3 relevant sections of the Constitution that affect DC’s path to becoming a state.

Who can admit a state?

Congress has the power to admit a state. (Article IV, Section 3)

The last state to join the union was Hawaii. Here’s what that looked like: (source)

  • March 11, 1959 : Senate voted 75-15 in favor of the Admissions Act
  • March 12, 1959: House approved as well 323-89 
  • March 18, 1959: President Dwight Eisenhower signed the “Hawaii Admissions Act”.
  • June, 1959: Hawaiians voted to become a state “under terms specified in the Admissions Act” to accept the statehood bill.
  • August 21, 1959: Hawaii officially became first state

There are some guidelines in this section, specifically that a state can’t be made from another state unless that state agrees. Some folks point out that DC used to belong to Maryland, so Maryland would need to agree, but most constitutional scholars agree that Maryland already gave permission when DC was first carved out to make a federal district.

Does Congress have power over DC?

The Constitution says that Congress has the power to “exercise legislation” over the district that becomes the seat of government. (Article I, Section 8)

“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…”

The DC statehood bill that the House passed a few weeks ago shrinks the federal district, and thereby the seat of the government, to create a small footprint that only encompasses the federal buildings. This would leave the rest of DC free to become a state. This was constitutional experts’ answer to this part of the Constitution.

What about DC’s electoral votes?

The 23rd Amendment gave DC three electoral votes for presidential races. If DC were granted statehood by shrinking the seat of government, they’d be granted their own electoral votes. Which would leave the only occupants in the federal district, i.e. the First Family, with three electoral votes. So, if DC were granted statehood, the 23rd Amendment would need to be repealed.

Only one amendment (the 18th – ban on alcohol) has ever been repealed. In order to repeal an amendment, Congress would have to propose and pass a new amendment repealing the 23rd Amendment, and then 3/4 of the states would need to ratify the amendment.

I can’t imagine that anyone in the country would want the occupants in the White House to have 3 electoral votes all to themselves, and so it seems like a no brainer to me that this amendment would pass, but I do acknowledge that repealing an amendment would be a bear to pull off.

So what do we do now?

With a 50-50 split Senate, and one of our own caucus members unwilling to pass a bill, I see one obvious path to getting DC statehood: We need to win the majority in the House again at the 2022 midterms so they can pass the DC statehood bill once again in the next Congress, and we need to flip more GOP Senate seats so we don’t have to rely on Manchin for the 50th vote. If we win the midterms, there’s a whole lot we can do in Biden’s third and fourth year to make some great progress towards this, and many other goals!

This Friday I’ll be posting an early look at the 2022 midterms, so stay tuned for that!

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