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Lie of the Day

The lie of the day is that D.C. statehood is over voter disenfranchisement. 

To understand the lie, one must first understand the disenfranchisement argument: Over 700,000 people who live in D.C do not have a voting member of Congress or representation in the Senate.

The proposed remedy is to make D.C. a state. 

Another remedy would be to reduce the footprint of D.C. so that very few people voters were disenfranchised.

Constitutional Background

  • Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution creates a "District (not exceeding ten Miles square)" as the "Seat of Government of the United States."
  • The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution allows American citizens residing in the District of Columbia to vote for presidential electors, who in turn vote in the Electoral College for President and Vice President. In layperson’s terms, the Amendment means that residents of the District are able to vote for President and Vice President.

As a result of the 23rd Amendment, enacted in 1961, now gives DC 3 electoral college votes in presidential elections.

Retrocession Background

If statehood was really only about disenfranchisement, the solution would be easy: Retrocession

Exactly 100 square miles (259 km2) straddling the Potomac was designated by the 1790 Residence Act as the District of Columbia, ceded by the states of Maryland and Virginia; and the 1801 Organic Act placed the areas under the control of the United States Congress. The portion west of the Potomac, ceded by Virginia, consisted of 31 square miles (80 km2) in two parts: the city of Alexandria, Virginia, at the extreme southern shore, and its rural hinterland, short-lived Alexandria County, D.C. After decades of debate about the disenfranchisement that came with district citizenship, and tensions related to congressional negligence, this portion of the district was returned to Virginia in 1847. The remaining district assumed its current boundaries and area of 68.34 square miles (177 km2) east of the Potomac and 0.19 square miles (0.49 km²) of land on the west side of the Potomac River on Columbia Island. 

DC Statehood Politics and Constitutionality

With that background, let's dive deeper into DC Statehood politics and constitutionality.

Why was Alexandria allowed to retrocede in 1846?

The main stated reason was that the former Virginians on the west side of the Potomac felt neglected by the power base across the river, where the federal buildings were being erected. The real reason may have been that the Virginians feared slavery would be outlawed in DC and they would lose the slave market in Alexandria.

Why not just give most of the Maryland side of DC back to Maryland?

DC residents have their own all-or-nothing approach, choosing not to pursue retrocession of the portion of the District that was formerly part of Maryland.

What would happen to the 23rd Amendment if Congress made DC a state?

The bill before Congress says the US would start undoing the amendment. But it takes an amendment to undo an amendment. A constitutional amendment takes years of effort. While the statehood bill envisions a fast track to this process, it'd have to work flawlessly, otherwise the few people who still lived in the federally controlled district might continue to get three electoral votes. (This type of thing will be the subject of lawsuits.)

What do Americans in general say?

About two-thirds of Americans opposed making DC a state in a Gallup poll in 2019. Interestingly, polling found the reverse for Puerto Rico -- two-thirds of Americans supported statehood for the territory.

Are there any other obstacles?

The plan to simply shrink the capital district is clever. But it's not a foregone conclusion that it's legal. The Supreme Court currently has a Republican-appointed majority, and it's an open question how it would rule if Republicans took the case to court.

There's also the weirdness of a country where such tiny states have such power in the Senate, which can put a stop to any legislation it wants. If we're going to add seats for DC, why not add seats by breaking up California or Texas or Florida, massive states that only get two senators.

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It's All About Politics

Of course those in DC want a political power grab. 

I want to cede from Utah and be my own state too. 

In this case, because statehood would give to seats to Democrats the Democrats in Congress are happy to oblige.

But creating an extra state has a national impact. Two-thirds of the country is against the idea.

What Should Republicans Do?

Clearly the bill is headed nowhere. But Republicans should not kill it and walk away.

Republicans should sponsor a bill to cede portions of DC back to Maryland.

Democrats would not go along and that would expose the lie that this is about voter disenfranchisement.

Ten Miles Square

Let's return to the constitution. Recall that Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution creates a "District (not exceeding ten Miles square)".

It seems Congress created a district that was 100 square miles. 

I interpreted that as 10 square miles but a reader pointed out it means 10 miles a side. 

Regardless, this needs to be remedied, not by statehood and not by a Constitutional Amendment, but rather by ceding land back to Maryland.

10 squares miles is likely just about the right size to fit the needed buildings.