Today, split along party lines, the US House of Representatives passed HB 51. This bill would make Washington, D.C. the 51st state. The legislation would actually leave a small piece of property around the White House, the US Capitol and the National Mall as a federal district, but the rest of the area would form a new state known as Washington, Douglas Commonwealth, named after the abolitionist Frederick Douglas. I guess Columbus is out of vogue.
So what’s the big deal? Why shouldn’t we make D.C. the 51st state? Well, the Founding Fathers had good reason not to want D.C. to be a state. They wanted to protect the other states from federal overreach. They wanted the new capital to be neutral ground where elected officials from all of the other states could come together on equal footing, without any state having an advantage over another due to their proximity to the seat of power. The founders expected that Congress as a whole would represent the interests of D.C.
In fact, the founders believed that even without D.C. being a state, its residents would still enjoy vast benefits. Justice Joseph Story said that its residents would “receive with thankfulness such a blessing, since their own importance would be thereby increased, their interests subserved, and their rights be under the immediate protection of the representatives of the whole.” It could be argued today that the interests of the residents of the district are already furthered more than those of the rest of the country. Federal spending often benefits residents of D.C. far more than residents of other states: ten of the richest counties in America are near D.C.
Because Article I, Section 8 specifically states the conditions and status of D.C., Congress doesn’t even have the authority to pass legislation making it a state. It would actually require a Constitutional Amendment. But amendment, shmendment – apparently, that doesn’t matter anymore.