The effort to make Washington, D.C. the 51st state became even longer odds on Friday as Senator Joe Manchin once again became the fly in the Democratic ointment and has come about against the bill.
He noted that prior administrations — Democratic and Republican — believed the process of making Washington, D.C. a state must include a constitutional amendment ratified by the states.
“They all came to the same conclusion. If Congress wants to make D.C. a state, it should propose a constitutional amendment,” Manchin said in an interview with the West Virginia MetroNews radio network. “It should propose a constitutional amendment and let the people of America vote.”
Manchin has gotten in the habit of derailing the Democrat’s more radical proposals, such as the $15 an hour minimum wage, and now Biden’s infrastructure bill that isn’t about infrastructure at all. What it means is that even if Democrats can find a way to do away with the filibuster, they won’t have the 51 votes to pass it.
Republicans argued during the House vote that the measure wouldn’t withstand judicial scrutiny. Manchin said he would “tell his friends” that if they pursued statehood through legislation, “you know it’s going to go to the Supreme Court.”
“Every legal scholar has told us that, so why not do it the right way and let the people vote and see if they want a change,” Manchin said.
Such an amendment would not go up for an election. Rather, a proposed amendment to the Constitution would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of both chambers of Congress, and then legislatures in 38 states must ratify the language adopted by Congress in order for the amendment to become valid.
All this constitutional stuff gives Democrats a headache. It so much easier just to engineer a power play in the Senate and ram the statehood bill through.
But is Manchin right about a “constitutional amendment” being needed to admit a state? Technically, no.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting member of Congress, did not mention Manchin by name in a statement her office released Friday. But it was clearly intended as a rebuttal to his comments.
“First, no new state was admitted by constitutional amendment,” Norton said. “All 37 new states were admitted by Congress, and there has never been a successful constitutional challenge to the admission of a state. The Constitution commits admission decisions solely to Congress.”
Again, technically that’s true. But the Admissions Clause is more complicated than that. From The Constitutional Center:
The Admissions Clause provides that admission of a state requires at least one Act of Congress. However, Congress has often followed a more complicated process. For many admitted states, Congress first passed an Enabling Act, which authorized the population of a territory to convene a constitutional convention to draft a constitution for the new proposed state, and to apply for admission to Congress. Often in the Enabling Act, Congress specified a range of conditions that the proposed state had to meet in order for admission to occur. These conditions varied widely across time and states.
The potential new state would then send a proposed state constitution to Congress. Once that was approved, Congress voted on an enabling act that would admit the state.
It’s safe to say that any effort to make Washington, D.C. a state will end up in court and would be ticketed for the Supreme Court before long. Democrats have not strictly followed the procedures for admitting Washington as a state, but that’s not likely to derail the effort in the long run.