The case against D.C. statehood
What's next — statehood for Los Angeles and Houston and New York City?
Just ahead of their Fourth of July recess (not to be confused with the one they had six months ago in the middle of impeachment proceedings or the one currently scheduled for August) our hard-working legislators in the House of Representatives passed a bill that would make Washington, D.C., the 51st state. How wonderful that in the midst of a pandemic and an economic depression, despite their busy vacation schedule, these stalwart leaders were able to bring their influence to bear upon such a pressing question.
The Republican-controlled Senate, unsurprisingly, has no interest in taking up the legislation, which would — assuming it could survive a challenge in the Supreme Court, which I frankly doubt — give the opposition party two free seats in the upper chamber. This is not principled opposition. It's a simple acknowledgement of partisan reality. If Greenland were purchased tomorrow and it looked to be the case that Kaj Knudsen and Helga Damsgaard were reliable GOP voters, Mitch McConnell and company would be pushing for statehood immediately, and Democrats would be decrying the unconstitutional folly of bribing a foreign power in order to create more Republican Senate seats. Both would be as understandable as Friday's House vote.
This is not to suggest that there are no serious practical arguments against D.C. statehood. In fact, a detailed list of them would exhaust the space of a short column. The first and most important one is simply that the creation of a new state is not the most obvious or straightforward solution to the ostensible grievances of longtime pro-statehood agitators. If the point were really all the liberal gas about taxation without representation, a much simpler answer would be to return all of the district minus the immediate area surrounding the White House, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court to Maryland (or to give it to Virginia).
If admitted to the Union as a state in its own right, Washington or New Columbia or Pronoun City or whatever they could get away with calling it in 2020 would not only be far and away the smallest state in geographical terms; it would have the third lowest population but the highest median household income and unprecedented influence over the workings of the federal government, which it would contain and, in many ways, effectively control. (This ultimately was the reason that Britain was forced to create new devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, in order to balance out de facto English authority over the center of the kingdom.) It would also be the only state with no rural population. It would be, constitutionally speaking, a freak, an arbitrary creation that would forever alter the meaning of statehood itself.
Moreover, it would leave us with no answer to the question of why we should not grant statehood to New York City or Los Angeles or Houston, with their vast GDPs and enormous, ever-expanding populations. Surely in a strict utilitarian sense these municipalities have more of a right to direct federal representation than North Dakota or Wyoming. It would lead us inexorably to the conclusion that regions of the United States without economic influence or dense concentration of citizens should be denied power on precisely these grounds. Given the voting patterns of rural America in my lifetime, one is tempted to draw the conclusion that for one of our major political parties this would be a welcome development.
Which is why, ultimately, it is impossible to argue about D.C. statehood in a neutral disinterested manner. It is a classic court party versus country party argument, a political dynamic that has existed in virtually all societies. I, for one, am on the side of the country. I do not blame those who belong to the court for taking the opposite view.
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