Voting concerns in DC

To the Journal editor:

One of many problems of the U.S. political system is that residents of our capital, Washington DC, are unable to vote in elections to Congress, despite Congress having power to pass laws for them “in all Cases whatsoever.” This is indefensible. Congressional security, the reason we have a federal district, does not require Congress to rule over private residents and businesses. DC does elect a mayor and council, but their decisions have to be approved by Congress, which is willing to overrule DC ordinances it merely dislikes. Thus, DC statehood is imperative. I will therefore confine myself to refuting arguments opposed to DC statehood on Constitutional and policy grounds. I will close with a note on retrocession to Maryland.

Among the enumerated powers of Congress in article one, section eight of the Constitution, is “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding 10 miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States.” Opponents of DC statehood contend that this prohibits Congress from changing the federal district, but this forgets that the clause merely authorizes the creation of a federal district, and vests Congress with exclusive power over it. Geographically, the federal district is defined by the residence act of 1790, which as an act of Congress can’t be said to have constitutional significance. DC’s past as part of Maryland also is no constitutional bar, as DC is clearly not “within the Jurisdiction” of Maryland, whatever the then-near-uninhabited district’s past legal status. Admittedly, there’s no elegant solution to the 23rd amendment (providing for DC to appoint members of the Electoral College), but a rump district — consisting of the National Mall, Capital Hill, the White House and the Supreme Court building — could assign those members to the winner of the national popular vote. Thus, there’s no constitutional bar to DC statehood.

One objection to DC statehood is DC’s dependence on federal funds, but five states receive more federal funds as a proportion of their budgets then DC, without DC-level federal oversight. A second objection concerns DC’s urban nature, and thus probable Democratic representation. However, many states, such as Wyoming, which has a lower population than DC, are majority rural and Republican. Finally, couldn’t DC be retroceded to Maryland? Yes, but Maryland would need to want DC back. They don’t.