Fifty Nifty One?
The House voted to begin the process of making Washington D.C. a state Friday. Hawaii was the last state added to the union in 1959. Washington D.C. is one of the most Democrat-leaning areas in the U.S. It has only had an elected mayor since 1975 and has never elected Republican. The city is home to around 700,000 residents, and advocates argue that the majority of these citizens are minorities who have no representation in Congress.
David Frum, editor of the Atlantic, argued that statehood for D.C. would bring balance back to the Senate, a common line of argument on the left. Since the Senate allocates two votes per state, populous states like California have the same say as smaller states like Oklahoma. This doesn’t sit well with those who see smaller states as conservative impediments. He wrote, “It's right now theoretically possible for a bill passed by senators representing 290 million to be thwarted by senators representing 37 million people.” That’s entirely the point.
This comes down to a basic civics lesson. The District of Columbia was given the power to vote in presidential elections in the 23rd Amendment which also states that they may have electoral votes less than or equal to those of the least populous state. Because of these measures, the DoJ has consistently held that D.C. could not be admitted to statehood without a new amendment to the Constitution, which requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.
Second, the purpose of the Senate is to balance power between the states, because of their different populations. If anything, Frum’s argument proves that the Senate is working well. The House of Representatives is weighted towards more populous states. That the Senate is the “higher house” is a tribute to the founders’ belief that consensus is a check on regional interest. In a representative democracy, the popular vote is broken up into representative blocks. This keeps the country in line with a more national consensus, as opposed to being run by California, Florida, New York, and Texas. The same thing is true with the electoral college. While advocates for direct democracy argue that it better represents the will of the people, it actually allows a smaller group to decide outcomes. In a representative democracy, especially with our bicameral legislature, a supermajority of millions of voters in California or Texas who might be able to push legislation through or provide a foundation for a presidential candidate can be balanced by votes from less populous states across the nation. When it works, this binds the future of the country to a broader consensus than majority rule, but it assumes you can find a broad consensus.
Third, Washington D.C. was intended to be free from state-specific laws and politics. Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress direct oversight of the capital. In The Centennial History of the City of Washington D.C., Harvey Crew wrote, “It is evident, from a study of the early history of our country, that the stability of its government was dependent upon no one circumstance more than the permanency of its seat of government.” In Federalist 43, Madison wrote, “the gradual accumulation of public improvements at the stationary residence of the government would be both too great a public pledge to be left in the hands of a single State, and would create so many obstacles to a removal of the government, as still further to abridge its necessary independence.”
While it’s astounding how quickly Democratic lawmakers will jettison both history and intention to make a political point to a largely uninformed base, the vote in the House Friday is purely symbolic. The measure has no chance of passing the Senate or the President’s desk. If it did, it would be interesting to know how many Dems would vote for it. In the meantime, it’s a small measure in the war against Trump and a sign of the worsening gridlock in Congress.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak.