Creating the State of New Columbia from Washington DC: Bill Introduced

Same song, second, third, fourth and fifth verses. One day, the District of Columbia will be the state of New Columbia or whatever name is decided upon. It will be completely run by Democrats forever forward – a long-sought Democrat objective. According to the U.S. Constitution, our Nation’s capital is not intended to be a state, but to be a “federal district,” placed solely under the control of Congress, as so dictated under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17. With Lieberman retire, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) picked up the mantle and introduced the expected 113th Congress legislation to make the District the 51st State of New Columbia. The question: is such legislation constitutional?

New Columbia?

New Columbia?

UPDATE 7:35 pm CST: Grumpy Opinions commented and states the problem concisely: “Nationally we have 100 Senators Representing 200,000,000 people. DC would end up with 2, representing only a half million total…”

Congress retains control of the revenue of the District which is undoubtedly why it is among the wealthiest cities in the United States, and the growth of federal workers has soared to unprecedented levels under Obama, creating one of the lowest unemployment rates, with the highest number of overpaid individuals, thanks to the American taxpayer. It is the favorite playground of the nation’s most powerful players.

In 1980, a statehood initiative was introduced, complete with a “Constitution for the State of New Columbia.” According to this source, the initiative is introduced each new congressional session:

Under the specifications of the statehood initiatives, most of the land area of the District of Columbia would become the state of New Columbia; the District of Columbia would continue to exist, albeit reduced in size to an area consisting of the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Mall and federal monuments and government buildings adjacent to the Mall.

In the 112th Congress, retiring Senator Joe Lieberman introduced statehood legislation, carrying co-sponsors, Boxer, Durbin and Murray, who are still attached to the 113th legislation, with Senator Carper (D-DE) as sponsor of S. 132.

There is no text of S. 132 yet available and no summary, so perhaps the bill calls for first, amending Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 – but we have no way to know.

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.” This amendment, however, was not ratified in the seven-year period established by Congress. Other proposals have included a retrocession of most, or all, of the District to Maryland—a plan that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1964 deemed impractical and unconstitutional—and the admission of Washington, D.C., to the Union as the fifty-first state.

In 2000, the courts rejected a series of arguments suggesting that the District’s inhabitants were, on various constitutional and policy grounds, entitled to voting representation in Congress without an amendment. See Adams v. Clinton (2000). More recently, the courts have rejected application of the Second Amendment to the District of Columbia, reasoning that the right to keep and bear arms was for the benefit of state militias, and efforts to invalidate a congressionally imposed limit on the District’s ability to tax nonresident commuters. See Seegars v. Ashcroft (2004); Banner v. United States (2004). In the latter case, the court noted that, “simply put…the District and its residents are the subject of Congress’ unique powers, exercised to address the unique circumstances of our nation’s capital.” Source: Heritage Foundation

Statehood is now the clear preference of District of Columbia voting-rights advocates, but the proposal has never excited much support in Congress and would, in any case, also require a constitutional amendment since an independent territory, subject to the ultimate authority of Congress, was a critical part of the Framers’ original design for an indestructible federal union of indestructible states.

In 1961, D.C. gained the right to vote in presidential elections. As it stands today, the District has an elected Congresscritter, at this time Eleanor Holmes Norton. She cannot vote on legislation on the House floor but can vote in Congressional committees. She currently is the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The District is not represented in the U.S. Senate. The Twenty-Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1961 grants three electoral votes in presidential elections.

An opinion on constitutionality by Heritage Foundation:

The case for granting full congressional representation to District residents rests on the theory of government by consent and the failure to recognize that, although they lack direct voting representation, District residents do not want for representation of their interests and concerns. This is not a historical accident but an integral part of the Framers’ plan for a “federal town” designed to serve the needs of the federal government, as all Members of Congress would share responsibility for the city’s well-being.

It should not be surprising, then, that Congress lacks the constitutional authority to simply grant the District a voting representative by fiat, as S. 160 would do. The Constitution limits such representation to states alone. Even if Congress wishes to alter the means by which District concerns are raised in the national legislature, it still has the responsibility to reject proposals that violate the Constitution.

What the Constitution Says

The Constitution’s District Clause, in Article I, Section 8, declares the District of Columbia to be subject directly to the federal legislature. “The Congress shall have power,” it reads,

To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States….

Liberal constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, who favors ending what he calls “the glaring denial of basic rights to the citizens of the District,” labels legislative efforts to provide congressional representation to District residents “fundamentally flawed on a constitutional level.” In a careful analysis, Turley considers the original meaning of the constitutional provisions at issue–the Composition, Qualifications, and District Clauses–and finds no support for the proposition that Congress may alter its composition legislatively. Indeed, the Constitution’s Framers intended the opposite. As Turley explains:

It would be ridiculous to suggest that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention or ratification conventions would have worked out such specific and exacting rules for the composition of Congress, only to give the majority of Congress the right to create a new form of voting members from federal enclaves like the District. It would have constituted the realization of the worst fears for many delegates, particularly Anti-Federalists, to have an open-ended ability of the majority to manipulate the rolls of Congress and to use areas under the exclusive control of the federal government as the source for new voting members.

Another opinion:

The constitutional issue presented by D.C. statehood is not whether Congress may turn the District of Columbia into a state, but whether it may reduce the District’s size and admit the balance as New Columbia. The District Clause in the Constitution gives Congress plenary legislative authority which it has already used twice to change the District’s size. Downsizing the District again would not fundamentally impair its constitutional function. Maryland’s consent to statehood is not required because its original grant of land for the District was unconditional. New Columbia would therefore be formed from federal, not Maryland lands. D.C. statehood would moot the Twenty-third Amendment without formal repeal because the amendment’s purposes would be accomplished by allowing residents of the downsized District to vote as if they were citizens of New Columbia, and because no one would have standing to complain of the amendment’s resulting obsolescence. Finally, New Columbia would satisfy the only constitutionally imposed prerequisite for statehood — a republican form of government. Source: The George Washington Law Review 1991

Is it possible to consider a state of New Columbia being anything but a state represented by Democrats – ever? Here’s a preview.

Graphic courtesy of Newser.

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  • Well done Maggie- Not too many understand how DC was put together. If you back out the Federal District, and the the chunk Virginia kept after the Civil War the “State” would be smaller than most counties.. and have a hell of a lot fewer people.. Nationally we have 100 Senators Representing 200,000,000 people. DC would end up with 2, representing only a half million total.. seems a bit loopsided

    • Grumpy, I updated with your:

      “Nationally we have 100 Senators Representing 200,000,000 people. DC would end up with 2, representing only a half million total…

      That makes it very clear. Thanks for doing the math:-)

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  • On a good note, quite a few states (Ohio, Florida for just 2) are looking into changing the way they proportion their electoral college votes from winner takes all to by each district. If that was true last November, Romney would be President. It is time that the big cities stop determining who becomes President.

    • findalis, I’ve heard several thoughts on that. Wonder where it will go from here. It’s a good thing it’s a state decision to start with because Obama will take them to court anyway, but it is a start.

  • Making D.C. a state would almost guaranty perpetual control of the Senate by the Democrats and maybe the Presidency, as well. In my opinion, a better solution would be to extract all residential and commercial areas and return them to the states from which they came.

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  • The answer is simple: the parts of the District which were in Virginia were ceded back to Virginia. All we need to do is to ceded the parts of the District that came from Maryland back to Maryland, and have the actual District comprised almost entirely by the federal buildings. It would not require a constitutional amendment to do this, and Maryland would wind up picking a congressional seat, while the two Maryland senators would represent the District denizens.

    The problem isn’t how to make the District denizens part of a state; the problem is how to kick most of them out.