Update: The House approved statehood for Washington, D.C., on June 26, 2020.
The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on statehood for Washington, D.C., on Friday. The vote will consider a bill introduced by delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) in January, 2019.
The bill was considered by the Committee on Oversight and Reform. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), the chair of the committee, filed a report urging Congress to pass the bill.
“The principles of no taxation without representation and consent of the governed helped launch the American Revolution and are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence,” the report states, “but District residents are taxed without representation and governed without consent.”
The report also reminds legislators that Congress has the power to admit new states with a simple majority, and that the Constitution does not specify any prerequisites or tests for new states.
Finally, the report acknowledges that arguments against admitting D.C. as a State often center on the expectation that the District will vote for Democrats.
“The right of American citizens to have voting representation in Congress should not be dependent on the political parties of those citizens,” the report points out. “The possibility that new Members of Congress might be from a different political party is not a valid legal or constitutional basis to deny statehood.”
The Trump administration has issued a Statement of Administration Position against the bill.
Supporting information in the report includes the fact that D.C. pays more in taxes than 22 of the current States and that the residents of the District voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood in 2016, when 86% of voters chose to become a State.
Norton also claimed that refusing statehood to D.C. is an act of discrimination. “Three generations of my family have yet to attain the votes Americans take for granted,” she said. “Statehood is priceless. Statehood assures that living in the nation’s capital is about pride, not prejudice.”
Under the bill, HR 51, the buildings where government takes place would not be included in the new State, which would be called the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. The name would honor Frederick Douglass, a civil rights activist who escaped slavery and lived in D.C.
As is the case with the commonwealths of Massachusetts and Puerto Rico, “Commonwealth” would have no legal meaning and no effect on the political status of the new State.
The House is expected to pass the bill and send it to the U.S. Senate for consideration. Both the House and the Senate must vote to admit D.C. and the president must sign the bill in order for D.C. to be admitted as the 51st State.
However, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised that he will not allow a vote on a statehood bill for D.C. (or, for that matter, for Puerto Rico). He has said that this is because D.C. is likely to elect Democrats to the legislature.
While the House Committee on Oversight and Reform has pointed out the weakness of this argument against statehood for D.C., McConnell has the power to prevent the Senate from voting on the bill.
Effects on Puerto Rico
While most forecasters do not expect that Washington, D.C. will become a state this year, a vote to admit the district as a state reflects an underlying growing awareness in the U.S. and the world on the importance of dignity and respect for all races. The impact of colonization is part of that conversation.
In any case, recognition by Congress that statehood is a matter of civil rights could increase recognition that statehood for Puerto Rico is also a matter of civil rights.