Democrats campaigned last fall on making the District of Columbia a state. Unfortunately for Democrats, the U.S. Constitution stands in the way.
Some Democrats would like to have you believe that the case for D.C. Statehood is akin to Puerto Rican statehood, but it’s not. When it comes to D.C. statehood, it’s clear that this nothing more than an attempt to pack the Senate and House with an army of far-left-wing Democrats.
The case against D.C. statehood on the constitutional merits is an open-and-shut case: You can’t do it. It may be possible to annex parts of D.C. to Virginia and Maryland, but granting statehood to the city of D.C. would not pass constitutional muster. In Article I, Section 8 powers, the “enumerated powers” of the federal government, make D.C. the seat of the federal government. On the list is the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square)” and “become the Seat of the Government of the United States.” This is called the “Enclave Clause,” because it is the provision that sets down D.C. as the enclave, or home, for the federal government.
Our Founding Founders saw the District as one being run by the federal government and independent of any state’s authority. As quoted in The Heritage Foundation Guide to the Constitution, James Madison in Federalist 43, explained that “the indispensable necessity of complete authority at the seat of government carries its own evidence with it.” In other words, if the federal government became dependent on a state, that could lead to “proceedings interrupted with impunity.” He also worried that a state housing the federal government would have more influence than other states creating an imbalance of power. It would be virtually impossible to carve out parts of the city of D.C. and leave a small portion to the federal government in a way that would pass constitutional scrutiny.
There have been efforts in the past to amend the Constitution to allow D.C. voting representation in the House and Senate. Lee Casey wrote for The Heritage Foundation that “There have been a number of efforts to change this original design, including a proposed constitutional amendment (passed by Congress in 1977) that would have granted the District of Columbia congressional voting representation ‘as if it were a state.’” The amendment never made it into the Constitution. Back in 1964, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy pushed back on a plan that would have given much of D.C. to Maryland. Again, the opposition was rooted in the Constitution and for good reason.
Of course, it’s clear that Democrats don’t care that the plan they are pushing has some serious constitutional problems. On the policy side, it seems like this is a power grab to load up the House and Senate with Democrats – and not merely middle-of-the-road Democrats, but progressives who make AOC’s Squad look squishy. The District’s voting patterns have resembled an authoritarian or communist nation.
Just look at the voting history of D.C. to see why Democrats salivate at the idea of making D.C. a state. In 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected president, yet the District went 90.9% for Hillary Clinton and followed that up with 93% for Joe Biden in 2020. No matter how you feel about former President Trump and the Republican Party in general, it is crazy that an incumbent president only pulled 5.4% of the vote in D.C. That shows you why Democrats talk incessantly about D.C. statehood but give little mention to statehood for Puerto Rico.
I have been critical of Puerto Rican statehood in the past, but believe they have a far stronger case than D.C. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has elected a number of Republicans to office and currently has a Republican, Jenniffer Gonzalez, as the Resident Commissioner with limited rights to participate in the legislative process. The Republican Party has repeatedly put statehood for Puerto Rico in the platform of the party. Also, Puerto Rican voters are perceived to be socially conservative and far more likely to pull the lever for a Republican than your average lefty D.C. voter.
Don’t be fooled by Democrats’ empty talk of enfranchising new voters and adding to the list of states—they want power for power’s sake. That is why they have no intention of scheduling a vote on statehood for Puerto Rico but will be prioritizing an unconstitutional effort to grant statehood to D.C. for the next two years.
Brian Darling is a former staffer for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a veteran of The Heritage Foundation.