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The Case Against D.C. Statehood

by @ 4:10 pm on December 5, 2008. Filed under D.C. Statehood, D.C. Vote Bill, Washington DC

Responding to a post by Matthew Yglesias, James Joyner makes it:

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.


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.

As I noted earlier today, retrocession to Maryland would seem to be the best option, as even the founder of Daily Kos recognizes, but James brings up an option I hadn’t considered:

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.)

Assuming that Congress has the authority to do this, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t, this would seem to be just as good as actual retrocession. The only question I’d have is how virtual retrocession would affect internal politics in Maryland and the District; would D.C. residents be able to vote in Maryland state elections and send representatives to Annapolis ? Without actual consent from Maryland, I don’t see how that would be possible — meaning that D.C. would essentially be a city without a state and still likely dependent on the Federal Government for it’s budget. Unless I’m missing something, that is.

2 Responses to “The Case Against D.C. Statehood”

  1. Growing Lotus says:

    Congressional representation may be the most catchy slogan for statehood, but IMO the most important issue is that without statehood or being part of a state, the city council is a joke, subject to the whims of a congressional committee. As with other US territories, DC is a legal lab for congress to play with. Virtually becoming part of Maryland would worsen the situation much in the same way that violating the constitution to give a territory representation would, to use a mixed metaphor, putting on a band aid and sweeping the issue under the rug.

  2. citizenw says:

    Maryland must acquiesce in the return of DC for that alternative to be viable. There is no clamor from Maryland to urge the Congress to return DC. Absent that, retrocession is DOA.

    The Constitutional provision sometimes known as the “District Clause” resembles no other historical document so much as the Declaratory Act of 1766 (which was a prime cause of the American revolution).

    Historical attempts by the British parliament to govern the colonies “in all cases whatsoever” without either representation or consent were no more legitimate than current attempts by the Congress to govern DC “in all cases whatsoever” without representation or consent. Power corrupts, and Absolute Power “in all cases whatsoever” corrupts absolutely.

    Fundamental principles are the foundation of our Constitution, and therefore must trump Constitutional provisions that violate them. To wit:

    “6. That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly, ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage, and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for publick uses without their own consent, or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented, for the publick good.”

    Virginia Bill of Rights, June, 1776

    Washington DC has been “Governed Without Consent” since 1801

    Each citizen of the fifty states elects and is represented by one Congressional representative and two Senators.

    Equality, Nothing More. Equality, Nothing Less.

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