Politics

Misstating the Constitution

The problem with the D.C. statehood movement

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Legend has it that Abraham Lincoln once posed a riddle: How many legs does a dog have if you count his tail as a leg? Came the answer, "Five." Replied Lincoln, "No, four. Counting a tail as a leg doesn't make it a leg."

Tell it to the sponsors of a bill to give the District of Columbia a full-fledged member of the House of Representatives. They resolutely dismiss the hurdle presented by the Constitution, which says, "The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states." Not "states and any other entities under federal control," but states, period.

The District is a unique enclave, set apart by the founders as the seat of national government. But for this purpose, the advocates assert, it is functionally no different from Maine or Montana.

The fantasy has captured many minds. The House passed a similar bill in 2007, Barack Obama has endorsed the idea and the Senate is expected to approve it this week. To maintain the current party balance, the House would expand from 435 members to 437, with Republican-dominated Utah getting an extra seat to match the one given to the Democratic-leaning District.

The bill is pretty much a sure thing to become law. But it won't banish the reality that the District is not a state and can't be treated as though it were.

Capital residents used to understand this vexing constraint. Decades ago, they wanted the right to vote in presidential elections. So they proposed and, in 1961, got a constitutional amendment to reach that end.

In 1978, Congress approved another amendment, this one to give the capital the same representation (a House member and two senators) it would have if it were a state. The measure died in 1985 after being approved by just 16 of the 38 states needed for ratification. In 1992, a similar amendment went nowhere.

The result has been intense frustration among Washington's inhabitants, who have to bear the same burdens as other Americans—paying taxes, being subject to military conscription, enduring life without a secretary of commerce—but have no say on such matters in Congress.

They are entitled to elect a House delegate who enjoys the same prerogatives as other members—except the power to vote on floor legislation. Getting a House member who can't vote is like being invited to don a wet suit before entering the hot tub. District license plates carry a protest motto: "Taxation without representation."

Dissatisfied with the status quo but unable to alter it with a constitutional amendment, Washingtonians finally exclaimed: Amendment? We don't need no stinkin' amendment!

The rationale is that the Constitution, which provides for the capital, gives Congress the power "to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District." Therefore, it may do just about anything it pleases, including give the District a vote in the House.

But the argument proves too much. The same provision gives the national legislature "like authority over all places purchased … for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards and other needful buildings." If Congress can give the District a voting representative, it may give voting representatives to Fort Hood, the White Sands Missile Range and the Rock Island Arsenal. Which, obviously, it may not.

Washingtonians imagine they are victims of an injustice caused by a mere oversight, insisting that the framers never meant to disenfranchise them. Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University (location: Washington, D.C.), punctures this beguiling myth.

"The absence of a vote in Congress was clearly understood as a prominent characteristic of a federal district," he wrote last year in the George Washington Law Review. "Moreover, being a resident of the new capital city was viewed as compensation for the limitation. The fact that members would work, and generally reside, in the District gave the city sufficient attention in Congress."

A proposal by Alexander Hamilton to give the District congressional representation failed. So the founders knew what they were doing.

If Americans think they were mistaken on this point, the way to correct the error is a constitutional amendment. For the president and Congress to pretend none is needed betrays an alarming casualness about the Constitution. If they can look there and find the authority to give the District a seat in the House, they can probably also find a five-legged dog.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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  1. The Constitution is just a minor inconvenience for Congress.

  2. Man, this is some bull shit. Why can’t they just vote as Marylanders?

  3. In his latest column

    For one fleeting, glorious, instant, I read that as “last” column.

  4. Yo! Fuck D.C.

  5. I’m digging that Lincoln quote.

  6. Goddammit kilroy.

    Washington DC was originally built in an inhospitable swamp for a reason — ain’t nobody supposed to actually live there.

  7. There’s a certain value to Kwais’s idea. I understand the rationale behind the non-voting DC concept back in the day, but it’s lost some resonance.

    I don’t think it would make Maryland unduly influential to have DC un-ceded back into the state. Worked just fine for Arlington and Virginia.

    It eliminates any constitutional questions, as near as I can tell, and it doesn’t saddle us with a new* state that’s utterly unable to govern on its own.

    * I mean we don’t need to add another basket case when we’ve already got California, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Minnesota, and about forty others whose names escape me.

  8. I’m an idiot, so can someone explain to me why DC deserves to be treated as a state instead of as a city within another state. I’m in New York, and I’m sure we’d be happy to have additional reps beyond what we get for being part of New York state.

    If we make DC a state, we have to make, what? like at least three other places a state in order to add a whole new row to the flag (just adding one star would be a design pain). I say let’s go with PR (no more free ride, people!), Guam, and American Samoa.

  9. Why not cede most of the District (excluding Capital Hill) to VA or MD? Then they could have representation through one of those states.

  10. What is this ‘Constitution’ you speak of? Sounds like an interesting document. Perhaps we should have our congresspeople read it or something?

  11. Fools! They want there own state not be part of another state. It’s like when Franklin was sent to England as the colony’s chief delegate. He was under strict orders NOT to accept representation in parliament because then they would be outvoted easily and taxed WITH representation. DC is going down the same path. Far sighted of them.

  12. I guess I could have posted without the “Fools!” part. I just thought it was obvious. My apologies to all.

  13. (gives Naga a Charlie Horse, really hard)

    Apologies are for pussies.

  14. Why not cede most of the District (excluding Capital Hill) to VA or MD?

    Why would VA or MD want a city as screwed up as DC? I’m from VA and would be happy to give DC to NY.

  15. Epi,

    I forget no one has ever actually met me on these boards. Everyone that knows me eventually starts using my work nickname, “Teflon”. No dirt sticks to me cause I see and promptly nix any long term problems.

  16. We don’t want DC.

    “Why can’t they just vote as Marylanders?”

    Why not have only one Dakota then? Why not give Rhode Island to Connecticut?

  17. “we”=people in VA.

  18. Why not give Rhode Island to Connecticut?

    Fuck. You.

    I guess I could have posted without the “Fools!” part.

    No, you just didn’t use it in the proper form. It’s “You fools!”

  19. BDB,

    Damn straight!!! I’m sick of wasting brain cells trying to remember how many Dakotas there are and why the fuck West Virginia is a state! It’s just a bunch of non conformist Virginians anyway. We need to bring it down to a manageable ten or so.

  20. Elemenope,

    It’s almost reflexive now. I think I spend to much time at grylliade and Urkobold.

  21. My point is having D.C. as a state isn’t anymore ridiculous than having two Dakotas (WHY?) or Rhode Island. It over-represents an urban area in the Senate, sure, but there are plenty of rural areas over-represented.

  22. Elemenope,

    Also, the “you” can be understood so it would still work grammatically . . . or is it syntax?

  23. Either pass a Constitutional amendment making D.C. a state, or eliminate all federal taxes in the District.

  24. Why not have only one Dakota then? Why not give Rhode Island to Connecticut?

    Don’t get me started on, say, Superior or Jefferson. 😉

  25. I know this is a widely unrealistic plan, but I think we should expand to ~100 states. We add Puerto Rico (maybe with the Virgin Islands), have some sort of Pan-Pacific State (American Samoa + Guam, maybe add to Hawaii?), then carve up the rest of the US. New States would include:
    Northern Cal
    Central Cal
    Southern Cal
    Texas would split into 3-5 states.
    DC is limited to a small area around the Mall. Northern Virgina and Southern Maryland join with the other parts of DC to form a new state.
    Northern Florida
    Southern Florida
    NYC becomes a state.
    Eastern PA
    Western PA
    Some division of Ohio
    Maybe Long Island
    Some division of Illinois
    Some division of Michigan

    I like the idea of having different states as “laboratories of democracy” but the current discrepancies in population are out of control. Furthermore, having only 100 senators and 435 representatives does not make sense in a country of ~300 million. This would lead to at least 200 senators, and we should expand the House to at least 1000 members (while reducing their salaries).

  26. How about this plan?

  27. … they can probably also find a five-legged dog.

    Like controlling spending and reducing the deficit by introducing a budget with a 1.75 trillion dollar deficit.

  28. Why not give Rhode Island to Connecticut?

    Because we don’t want to lose our status as richest state? Because Block Island would lose it’s exoticness? Because they’re the only buffer between us and the Massholes on the Cape?

  29. That’s Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, damn your hide!

  30. I don’t trust the plans of a man who goes by the name of a known tyrant. Sulla is it? Or Caligula!!!

  31. How about being with the New York City area of NY state and northern New Jersey in the map above, epi?

  32. Steve Chapman on the D.C. Statehood Movement

    I’ve got a movement of my own with DC’s name written all over it.

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  34. Rhode Island will always be useful as the go-to state when attempting to describe how many of something small will fit into something large. For instance, you can fit 50 trillion Rhode Islands into our sun. Or 900 trillion DCs. Which wouldn’t be a bad idea.

  35. How about being with the New York City area of NY state and northern New Jersey in the map above, epi?

    Never, never, never. NYC is so fucking corrupt and taxes are so god damn high, plus all the other reasons. No one in CT would go for that.

  36. Once again in reference to Warren:

    Whoa!!!

  37. Some of you might want to check out the Constitution, Article 4, Section 3, Clause 1:
    “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”

    They’re states, people, not school districts. You can’t redrawn their boundries for convenience.

  38. Also, the “you” can be understood so it would still work grammatically . . . or is it syntax?

    I think omitting it introduces a subject ambiguity. “Fools!” can refer to members of the object, or even the indirect productive subject of the object, as well as your interlocutors. It is thus unclear whether you are calling the DC statehood people, Chapman, or us fools. On the other hand, “You fools!” clearly indicates you mean us.

    Of course, ambiguity can work, too.

  39. They’re states, people, not school districts. You can’t redrawn their boundaries for convenience.

    Sounds like the passage that you quoted says you *can*. You just need to get permission first.

  40. Elemenope,

    Yes.

    That is all.

  41. So if DC were to be given the voting rights of a state, would they be treated like one otherwise? No more dirrect federal moey funding everyting for them? And is it posible that you can have a city and state government that are the same thing? Either pass a constitutional amendment giving them some voting rights, but not the same as a state, pass one making them a state, but that meane that have to be fully treated as one, or preferably just give it back to maryland (though im sure maryland would be apposed. Who wants to take over an expensive crapy city that would burden the whols state when as of currently it can burdent he federal government instead?)

  42. You can bet your ass the city council has themselves in line for a sweet promotion to senators. Plus representative spots for their crony’s! Hooray democracy!

  43. Tyrant!? I always acted within the bounds of the rules of the Roman Republic. I may have relied on the loyalty of my men, who demanded that I take action against the foul Marian usurpers, but the Senate approved all of my actions. I never made my horse a senator or declared myself a god.

  44. I would like to remind the supporters of this bill that it is unseemly to masturbate in public.

  45. Some division of Illinois

    Chicagoland should be its own state–while the rest of northern and possibly central Illinois (including Rockford, the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, Peoria, Bloomington/Normal, La Salle, and Kankakee–along with maybe Quincy, Springfield, Decatur, Champaign/Urbana, and Danville) should become another state, and everything south of that (including the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis, Mt. Vernon, and Carbondale) should become yet another state.

    It might also be a good idea to divide Missouri into roughly eastern and western portions.

  46. A state legislature would allow its territory to be sliced-and-diced because why?

  47. Hmmmmmmm. Not yet you haven’t. Let the alcohol do its damage and everyone will see I was right!

  48. Some of you might want to check out the Constitution, Article 4, Section 3, Clause 1:
    “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”

    They’re states, people, not school districts. You can’t redrawn their boundries for convenience.

    Ummm, it’s just a bunch of suggestions. I’m very familiar with the Constitution and there does happen to be a mechanism for amending it. It’s not like I’m planning to emulate my namesake and march on DC to force the reforms through. Besides, the whole point of the suggestion is to give more power to individuals by causing the states to be smaller and more responsive. Why wouldn’t the people of Fresno want to have their own Senators instead of sharing them with LA and SF?

  49. A state legislature would allow its territory to be sliced-and-diced because why?

    Perhaps they’d respond to the subtle reasoning of my friends Smith and Wesson.

    I should write for CSI: Miami.

  50. DC Should absolutely not be a state.

    Congress has complete control over that district as the Constitution so directly and plainly states and with good reason.

    There’s no good reason to force the feds to have to deal with a state government for various capitol functions. If DC is a state, who controls how roads are paved, sewer pipes rerouted, police patrols are performed, etc.? Sounds dumb, but things like this will become issues as one state will now have far more power to disrupt federal government operations then any other.

    Will DC be able to make any 10th amendment cases when the fed government makes/demands changes to buildings,roads,etc. ?

    I can see and support an amendment to the Constitution giving DC residents a vote in the House and even Senate as they do now with President, just not statehood, ever.

  51. A state legislature would allow its territory to be sliced-and-diced because why?

    1) Naked Self interest – more US Senators and more State governors means more advancement for state legislators
    2) More homogenous – Smaller states can be less diverse and reach greater consensus. If NYC became a state it could enact more liberal policies, while the rest of New York could be more conservative.

  52. Sulla,

    Dude, you were a tyrant.

  53. DC Should absolutely not be a state.

    Congress has complete control over that district as the Constitution so directly and plainly states and with good reason.

    There’s no good reason to force the feds to have to deal with a state government for various capitol functions. If DC is a state, who controls how roads are paved, sewer pipes rerouted, police patrols are performed, etc.? Sounds dumb, but things like this will become issues as one state will now have far more power to disrupt federal government operations then any other.

    Will DC be able to make any 10th amendment cases when the fed government makes/demands changes to buildings,roads,etc. ?

    I respectfully disagree. The feds generally has to do through things through the city government anyway. Furthermore, the federal government deals with these sorts of issues all the time. Look at Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland – the federal government manages to work things out even though they own huge amounts of property, including the Pentagon, Fort Belvoir, CIA headquarters, Quantico, Fort Meade, Anapolis, Bethesda Naval Hospital, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, etc. If anyone could really mess with the federal government it would be Virginia and Maryland, and they all seem to work things out.

  54. This can be done constitutionally by making DC a full-fledged state minus the area that actually holds the White House, Supreme Court, and Capitol.

  55. Sulla,

    Dude, you were a tyrant.

    I really don’t have that much invested in this pseudonym. I first choose it in response to Gaius Marius (who I haven’t seen in a really long time). Still, I’m not sure its fair to call Sulla a tyrant. Granted, he did exercise near total control and terrorized his political opponents, but but by most accounts he also tried to act in accordance with the mos maiorum. His dicatorship was granted by the Senate (with his army outside the gates) and he voluntarily resigned to restore the normal functions of the Republic. He was not a nice guy, but he was certainly not the tyrant that Caligula or Nero or some of the later Emperors were.

  56. Tarquinius Superbus was a tyrant. Sulla was more of a dictator.

  57. “I’m an idiot, so can someone explain to me why DC deserves to be treated as a state instead of as a city within another state”

    I guess they’re going with the old Greek city state model.

    They think they’re the new Athens.

  58. The people in this movement are illiterates. They can’t even read the Constitution.

  59. If they are talking about changing the constitution to make DC a state, can we instead just move the capitol each year(or every 4 years) to a new randomly selected state capitol? Maybe leave Washington DC as a Disneyworld of government?

  60. I’m an idiot – can someone explain to me why Libertarians are supporting taxation without representation?

  61. Dude, if the residents of DC didn’t have to pay federal taxes that would be super cool

    we might have a much better more prosperous capital.

    Or we could have the residents of DC claim whatever state they wanted, and vote for the senators of that state.

  62. Max, someone here is supporting taxation?

  63. I first choose it in response to Gaius Marius .

    Is that the dude that betrayed humanity to the Cylons?

  64. I don’t think it would make Maryland unduly influential to have DC un-ceded back into the state. Worked just fine for Arlington and Virginia.

    As a voter in MD, let VA have them too, fuck that joining us stuff, unless they let everyone on the Eastern Shore join Delaware, and everyone North of Mont County and West of I-95 join PA.

  65. If the section of DC that is gen-pop (for lack of a better term) needs representation, they should petition Maryland to allow them. Save that, fuck them for being stupid enough to live in a place without representation when there is nothing preventing them from living in a real state. The zone is not supposed to be a state for a reason, to protect the federal government from a state’s power.

    And as someone who lives in Upstate NY, I fully support secession from the 9 downstate counties. Vermont left years ago, so should we.

  66. And as someone who lives in Upstate NY, I fully support secession from the 9 downstate counties. Vermont left years ago, so should we.

    If you get it, I’ll be there in 30 days, with all the cash I can muster, a decent work ethic, and willing to do whatever I need to to make it work. I love that area, but NYC wags the dog too much in ways I can’t abide.

    I’m absolutely dead on serious about that.

    If the section of DC that is gen-pop (for lack of a better term) needs representation, they should petition Maryland to allow them.

    With all due respect and the previous statement in mind, please, sir, shut the fuck up. We don’t need another PG County, one disaster is enough thank you very much.

  67. I’m an idiot – can someone explain to me why Libertarians are supporting taxation without representation?

    Instead of getting a voting House representative, they could also solve this “problem” by abolishing the income tax for residents of DC. Now THAT would be an interesting experiment!

  68. Instead of getting a voting House representative, they could also solve this “problem” by abolishing the income tax for residents of DC. Now THAT would be an interesting experiment!

    Personally, I’m less bothered by the residents of DC voting for representative than I am of me paying their taxes for them.

  69. Personally, I’m less bothered by the residents of DC voting for representative than I am of me paying their taxes for them.

    How much do get back for your taxes paid, in comparison to residents of DC?

  70. Sulla,

    Constitutional when you felt like it, huh? ????????.

    I wish gaius would post here again. His child is old enough, and I think his eschatological views would fit in here much better today that they did several years ago.

  71. I’m with max hats on this one. They are paying federal taxes, but lack representation.

    We should support the idea that they get representation while trying to stick to constitutional methods.

  72. I’m an idiot – can someone explain to me why Libertarians are supporting taxation without representation?

    Because its Constitutional, that’s why.

  73. Personally, I’m less bothered by the residents of DC voting for representative than I am of me paying their taxes for them.

    You are paying for you not for them.

  74. I have a solution. Kick all permanent residents out of the District other than elected officials (who have home states, and yes, that “permanent” was a joke).

  75. Emminent Domain — level the city of Washington DC and turn it into a theme park.

  76. Move the federal government to somewhere in t the millions of acres of federal reserve wastelands in the west and open a branch office in Mexico.

  77. Move the federal government to somewhere in t the millions of acres of federal reserve wastelands in the west and open a branch office in Mexico.

    I wonder if we could save tax money if we outsourced our government to Mexico?

  78. That sounds like a cool sequel to ‘Idiocracy’

  79. I wonder if we could save tax money if we outsourced our government to Mexico?

    You want parts of it in Costa Rica, India, and Ireland. That way you get 24 hour coverage.

  80. “Why not cede most of the District (excluding Capital Hill) to VA or MD? Then they could have representation through one of those states.”

    Because then I would not have been able to assume the debt of all the colonies in these United States of America, which gave me a leg up in expanding the power of the federal government.

  81. “Why not cede most of the District (excluding Capital Hill) to VA or MD? Then they could have representation through one of those states.”

    Because I want(ed) to keep my slaves.

  82. “If Americans think they were mistaken on this point, the way to correct the error is a constitutional amendment. For the president and Congress to pretend none is needed betrays an alarming casualness about the Constitution.”

    Same can be said of prohibition. Once upon a time, an amendment was needed. Now, not so much.

  83. Kwais,

    Thanks for the script idea sucker! I just emailed Mike Judge! Boo-yah!

  84. Arlington, Va used to be part of DC before it was transferred to VA. Just draw a line along North K Street from the Patomic River to 395 and then along 395 back to the Patomic River. Everything outside this line should go back to Maryland, and everything inside this line will be DC. Zone it so no one can have their legal residence inside this line. Then no one will denied voting rights due to living in DC.

  85. We don’t want DC.

    “Why can’t they just vote as Marylanders?”

    Hell, we’ll take ’em. More reps in Congress for us. The East Coast will bow to the power that is the Realm of Maryland!

    You fools!

  86. 2) More homogenous – Smaller states can be less diverse and reach greater consensus. If NYC became a state it could enact more liberal policies, while the rest of New York could be more conservative.

    NYC already enacts liberal policies for the entire state. They have nothing to gain by ditching upstate. Upstate has a lot to gain but they don’t have enough representation in the legislature to make it happen.

    this is what’s likely to be the case in any split-worthy state. The people who have the power to make it happen are exactly the ones who stand to lose from it. There’s a reason that only once in US history has an existing state legislature approved a split. (Maine/Massachusetts in 1837, and that was just to get more free state representation in the Senate)

  87. Post-Heller, doesn’t DC have looser gun control laws than MD? That would be one selling point for the Dems for a merger.

  88. I don’t like the idea of states with small areas, but I could see an argument for NYC, which is bound to be an important and densely populated area forever, just because of geography.

    But DC? If it weren’t for the federal government being there it would be about as densely populated as the Maryland panhandle, if not less so. No state for you!

  89. Whoa! Who kicked Warren in the verbal nads to elicit that outburst?

  90. I heard a rumor that Warren doesn’t like Steve Chapman. Not sure why, unless he stole Howley’s job or something.

  91. “If it weren’t for the federal government being there it would be about as densely populated as the Maryland panhandle, if not less so. No state for you!”

    WTF kind of argument is this? The federal government is there, and so are more people than like many current states.

  92. “My point is having D.C. as a state isn’t anymore ridiculous than having two Dakotas (WHY?) or Rhode Island.”

    Have you heard their delegate to Congress? The woman’s completely batshit insane. We have enough stupid/malicious/insane member of Congress without adding three more (two senators and a representative).

  93. MNG,
    The point Rabscuttle was trying to make was that New York is important in its own right, whereas DC is important chiefly because of the arbitrary decision to establish the capital there.

    Of course, the reason they established the capital there was to make sure it did not fall in any particular state in the first place.

  94. “Hell, we’ll take ’em. More reps in Congress for us. The East Coast will bow to the power that is the Realm of Maryland!”

    You’ll also have to let them vote for your state legislature and governor.

    These are the same people that elected Adrian Fenty their mayor. Repeatedly.

  95. “You fools!”

    I’m laughing on the inside.

  96. I live in Washington, D.C. So do most of 435 Congressmen and the executive branch.

    D.C. has all of the self-interested representation it ever fucking needs.

  97. *535 Congressmen

  98. “Taxation without representation.”

    They’ve got a point there.

    And if instead of granting them a representative, we declared DC a (Federal) tax free zone 🙂

  99. A five legged dog…right as to give them vote means they are not heart of our land olny a place in what state or country … our founders placed D.C. above a dot on map in some country or state and stated all members of our great land could care for our capital now that too is to be destoyed but at least before current adminustration sells last of it to ???bondage

  100. To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;–And

    what this means is that congress by word of the constitution has the right to legislate over and plan DC. you don’t need an amendment by word of this section because of the “in all cases whatsoever” and “exercise like authority over all places”. congress adds representatives as population increases in a district. who says they can’t make it a representative of maryland representing DC, since it says by consent the same state from which DC’s land was taken from. totally constitutional if approved by that states legislature.

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