While the issue of statehood for Washington DC occasionally bubbles up, history was made on Monday when President Barack Obama on Monday became the first sitting President to endorse statehood for the district. But like the rest of the supporters of the statehood movement, he misses the point.
Obama argued during his appearance at the Walker Jones education campus that because "folks in D.C. pay taxes like everybody else, they contribute to the overall well being of the country like everybody else, they should be treated like everybody else." This sounds good in theory and is no doubt music to the District's ears. This is also not a new argument. After all, the phrase "Taxation without Representation" has appeared on residents' license plates since they were authorized by city leaders in 2000 and Obama has used them on presidential limousines since January of last year.
The problem with this argument is a certain piece of paper called the United States Constitution. The Constitution specifically grants Congress authority over the District's affairs under the Article I, section 8, Clause 17 provision. The writers' of the U.S. Constitution believed that the nation's capital needed to be unique in order to provide for its own maintenance and safety. James Madison argued in the Federalist Papers that situating the capital city within a state would subject the federal government to unfair influence by said state and therefore violate the principle of federalism. Under the Constitution, this is one power the federal government has over state governments. Giving the District of Columbia full representation and statehood would violate the principle of federalism and undermine the structure of our government.
Another obstacle to granting D.C. statehood is whether Maryland's approval would be needed. The Constitution requires that a new state formed from an existing state must receive permission from the legislature. Because Maryland donated land to form the national capital and is not a new state, some lawmakers believe that Maryland must also consent to the new state.
In order for DC to achieve statehood, the only solution available is to pass a Constitutional Amendment. The Amendment process requires a two-thirds vote in favor of an amendment in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. If successful, the Amendment would next go to the states where three-fourths (38 out of 50) of the state legislatures would be needed to vote in favor. Given the deep political divide in the this country and the already overwhelming opposition to DC Statehood, any hopes will die quickly.
The argument for statehood will not go away as long as the license plates are around and elected officials continue speaking out. But it is time to start looking at alternatives towards granting DC more representation in Congress because statehood simply is not going to happen.