The statehood bill would reduce the size of the federal district—the part not given the full rights of statehood—to the immediate surroundings of the White House, Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court, and the National Mall, and turn the rest of the current Washington, D.C., into the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, honoring Frederick Douglass.
While Republicans have weakly tried to disguise it with talk of farming and car dealerships, Republican opposition to statehood comes entirely on partisan grounds: The District of Columbia’s voters are overwhelmingly Democrats, and that’s reason to keep more than 700,000 people from representation in the Congress. Currently, the District gets one non-voting representative in the House, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the sponsor of the statehood bill.
By contrast, there are a series of strong reasons to support statehood. There’s a simple justice question: Where in the United States you live should not determine whether your vote even counts. There’s the taxation without representation thing—and D.C. residents, of whom there are more than Vermont residents or Wyoming residents, pay more in federal taxes than residents of many states.
But there’s more. Washington, D.C.’s government makes the case that this is a racial justice issue. Statehood for the plurality-Black District would help change the fact that, in the U.S., “The average Black American voting power is only 75 percent as much representation as the average white American in the Senate and a 55 percent to the Hispanic voter.” This is not an incidental point: There’s a long racist history to limiting the political rights of the nation’s capital.
“In response to a Washington Post survey on Home Rule in 1966, White D.C. residents clearly articulated the racism behind their opposition,” historian Kyla Sommers wrote in The Washington Post, “saying such things as it ‘isn’t right that the Nation’s Capital be all colored’ and ‘they don’t have the right education to do the right job’ and rejecting the idea ‘because a colored fellow would be mayor—no other reason.’”
The District’s residents have more than their political rights at stake, too. There are serious material reasons they would benefit from statehood, and it’s not hard to find examples. On Jan. 6, as Trump-supporting insurgents attacked the U.S. Capitol, the order for the National Guard to activate had to come from the reluctant Trump White House and Defense Department, because the Washington, D.C. National Guard is not under local control. Additionally, Washington, D.C.’s government notes, “While our population is larger than that of both Vermont and Wyoming, under the CARES Act, the District was denied $755 million in emergency funds, which is the amount provided to the least populous state through the Coronavirus Relief Fund.”
Republicans are putting their partisan desire to protect minority rule in the Senate above representation in the federal government and self-governance at home for 700,000 people. Republicans don’t want to compete for those votes, so they’d rather keep them shut out of representation altogether. It’s typical, but we have to be clear about what’s going on here: This is a partisan issue on one side, and a justice and fairness issue on the other. And the filibuster that Republicans will use to block statehood is one more part of the same problem.