Home / General / <i>Of Course</i> D.C. Should Be A State

Of Course D.C. Should Be A State


Some people may have missed it in comments, but there was a debate about D.C. statehood and the malapportionment of the Senate in the Calhoun thread that is worth its own post. Let’s combine a couple of Murc comments:

DC absolutely should not be a state. It should be merged into Maryland. Having two Senators for a tiny postage stamp of land is just as ridiculous as having two Senators for the tiny handful of people who live in the vast empty swathes of Wyoming.

Ideally, we’d simply adopt a more sensible method of apportionment, but absent that, the way to give DC residents representation is to send the land back to whence it came.


[Responding to an argument that “DC has been a separate political entity for as long as Kentucky has, and forcing them to unify with a state they were part of 200 years ago is silly.”] Then we’ll never reform the Senate. Ever. Because most states have been separate political entities for extremely long periods of time as well. By your logic it would be ‘silly’ to force them into different configurations.

Look, let’s start with this — the Senate will in fact be “reformed” by eliminating its malapportionment never. First of all, Article V says that “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” And even if we assume that this provision can be amended, it is essentially superfluous because the amendment process established previously in Article V makes the Senate’s malapportionment permanent. The idea a significant numbers of small states (both through their state legislatures and their representatives in the Senate) are not only going to vote to greatly dilute their political influence but would be so motivated to do so that they would be able to satisfy the onerous supermajority requirements imposed by Article V is ludicrous in the extreme. It’s like saying that it’s no big deal for the Greens to throw presidential elections to Republicans because they favor a constitutional amendment that would create a national right to obtain an abortion, only less plausible. Comparing D.C. statehood to an ideal institutional arrangement that the Constitution forecloses is an entirely useless exercise.

Once we accept the obvious fact that Senate malapportionment is a permanent feature of the American political landscape, we can get to the more relevant question of whether D.C. statehood makes this problem better or worse. And the answer is quite clearly “better.” One reason Senate malapportionment is so problematic is that the overrepresentation of small states isn’t random but ends up in white, rural states in particular being massively overrepresented. Granting statehood to a diverse, urban small state would make this problem better. And in addition, there’s a rather obvious injustice to granting statehood to a substantial number of tiny white, rural states and then pulling the ladder up just in time to deny representation to D.C. and Puerto Rico. Having 51 or 52 states rather than 50 doesn’t make Senate malapportionment meaningfully worse, and granting statehood to some different kinds of states would on balance make the Senate more representative. And granting D.C. statehood wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment, just unified Democratic control of a Congress from which the filibuster has been eliminated from the Senate (which I think is nearly inevitable in the medium term), or a realignment that causes more small, rural states to vote like Vermont and Maine.

So if D.C. (or Puerto Rico) want statehood, they should get it; it’s a no-brainer.

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