Should Washington, DC become the 51st state?


Fact Box

  • Of the 50 states, Delaware was the first to be included on December 7,1787, while Hawaii was the last on August 21, 1959. 
  • President George Washington first took office in New York City; soon after the capital was moved to Philadelphia. The capital of Washington, DC was founded ten years later in 1790 as a compromise between Alexander Hamilton northern states) and Thomas Jefferson (southern states). 
  • DC does not have voting representation in Congress, and the federal government maintains jurisdiction over the city. 
  • Just Like DC, US territories Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa pay federal taxes but have no representation in Congress and cannot vote for president. 

Victoria (Yes) 

Yes, Washington, DC should become its own state. Washington DC became the US capital in 1790 amid tensions between the north and the south. This policy was meant to prevent undue influence by the state government and to protect DC's citizens. Today, Washington, DC currently does not have its own representation in the House or Senate. DC's governance is carried out through congressional committees, which are overseen and may be overruled by Congress, leading to several consequences.

Despite not having representation, the District of Columbia pays federal taxes, which are collected at the highest rate per capita in the United States. This practice was ruled unconstitutional by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2019, despite DC citizen Susan Breakefield having her case rejected by the Supreme Court in 1971. Opposition to taxation without representation is such a unanimous view in DC that it is used as a common motto on DC license plates. Almost 700,000 people live in DC, which is larger than states like Wyoming and Vermont, which have their own self-governance. 

Due to DC's lack of statehood, the capital is subjected to external policing and regulation, including the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), which has jurisdiction across DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Still, it is managed by federal, not local, government. Washington, DC is the third-most policed area per capita in the United States. Furthermore, the judicial branch is unrepresentative: judges are appointed by the president, not elected like other states, which causes citizen disenfranchisement. This lack of political representation results in extreme segregation, disparagement, and poverty throughout the city. 

Stephen (No)

Those who support the District of Columbia (DC) becoming the 51st state face considerable challenges under the Constitution, and from those who question its utility and desirability. America's Founders opposed the notion of a national capital politically tied to a state because it would create a conflict of interest. They had already rejected New York and Philadelphia as permanent capitals, fearing undue influence from their predominance in commerce and culture. In essence, the national capital and the host state would naturally favor each other in terms of policy and defense.

James Madison, like British political thinkers before him, saw balances of interests as key to maintaining free societies and preventing corruption. Washington, DC has a single interest that drives its economy and society. As the Cato Institute's Roger Pilon explained, this interest would create an unacceptable symbiosis between state and capital that would put every other state at a disadvantage. Proposals to create a Vatican City style federal district within a new state would still leave it hopelessly dependent on the surrounding state for policing and infrastructure.

Political reality leaves the debate academic. 

Only through Constitutional amendment and the permission of Maryland can DC become a state. Most state legislatures, especially those in Republican-dominated areas, would not concede to the dilution of influence that a new state would create. Legal and political realities that form the insuperable challenges to DC statehood are rooted in the Founding Fathers' fear of unbalanced influences and interests that formed the bedrock of their political thought.

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