DC Statehood Violates Serious Principles
The DC Council’s petition asking President-Elect Obama to put “Taxation Without Representation” plates on his limo to “send a clear message to the entire nation and the world” that he supports giving the city a vote in Congress has prompted Matt Yglesias to argue for DC statehood.
You would, of course, need to carve out a portion of the existing city to continue serving as the “federal district” and capital of the country. But that could easily be made a compact area around the Mall where nobody (except the President and the First Family) lives and thus nobody is denied voting rights.
For Democrats, this would mean two new Senators and one new Representative. It would also uphold the basic America idea that citizens should be allowed to vote and should be represented in congress. It would be totally constitutional. And though Columbia would be a small state, it would have a larger population than several current states.
Republicans, obviously, wouldn’t like the idea. But I don’t think there are serious arguments of principle against it. Strangely, though, Democratic leaders don’t seem interested either.
Actually, as one of Matt’s commenters points out, DC’s population of 588,292 is smaller than 49 of the 50 current states, narrowly edging out Wyoming’s 522,830. It would be far and away the smallest state by geographic size. Even counting the federal carveout, which eyeballs to about a third of the total land mass, DC is 60 square miles. The smallest current state, Rhode Island, is 1545 square miles, or twenty times the size.
If we were starting from scratch, we’d never have created many of the New England states or the northwestern territories while giving states equal representation in the Senate. There’s no need to compound the mistake given the advantage of current knowledge.
In no meaningful way is DC a state-like entity. It’s a city. And not even a huge city! Ranked by population, it’s the 27th largest city in the United States. It’s smaller than Denver, Nashville, Seattle, Boston, Milwaukee, El Paso, Baltimore, Charlotte, Memphis, Fort Worth, Austin, Columbus OH, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Detroit, San Jose, Dallas, San Diego, San Antonio, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City.
Indeed, it’s half the size of its chief NFL rival, Dallas. It’s roughly a third the size of Phoenix and a quarter the size of Houston. Chicago has five times the population. New York? Fifteen times bigger. And that’s just counting the actual residents, not the metropolitan areas, which would skew the disparities much further. But DC’s metro areas are firmly ensconced in Virginia and Maryland, so they’re not part of the discussion.
So, what’s the rational argument for giving DC two Senators when twenty-six other cities and 49 of 50 states are bigger? There is none.
Beyond that, Matt acknowledges the Framers’ wisdom in providing for a national capital district which isn’t a state; he’s merely making it smaller.
The problem to be solved is not DC residents yearning to breathe free but rather a historical artifact that denies a large population representation in the U.S. Congress. There are numerous ways to solve that problem without the idiocy of declaring a tiny city a state.
Retrocession to Maryland. The remaining part of DC was donated by Maryland. Give it back to them, minus a carve-out for the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court, and Mall.
Virtual retrocession. If Maryland won’t have DC back, simply count DC residents as part of Maryland for the purposes of U.S. Senate representation and allow them to vote for Maryland’s two Senators. Give them a House seat that’s counted as a “Maryland” seat but whose boundaries are fixed and excepted from the Baker v. Carr rule of equal size. (This may require a Constitutional amendment but strikes me as within the spirit of the Constitution, since representation would still remain with states.)
Give DC a Congressman. Forget the Senate entirely and simply give DC a House seat. I have no objection to this so long as it’s done by Constitutional amendment rather than unconstitutional legislative fiat.
UPDATE: Alex Massie thinks outside the box, attacking it from the taxation rather than the representation angle.
In return for not having a vote in Congress, how about abolishing the federal income tax for DC residents? I suspect there are many who’d be all in favour of that. And of course such a move would do more to repopulate the city – complete with the kind of urban density Matt’s in favour of – and regenerate its schools and so on than just about anything else…
Of course, if we radically increase the size of DC’s population, this “grand bargain” would almost certainly be overturned since the argument for statehood would be more powerful.