The debate about Congressional representation for the federal city presents neither an instance of political novelty nor an occasion of constitutional ambiguity. Consistently, the people and the courts have rejected efforts to grant the privileges of statehood to the District and have instead affirmed the plain meaning of the Constitution.
Article 1 of the Constitution states unambiguously that “the House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states.” Moreover, Congress has the power to “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District of Columbia.
The “enclave clause,” as it has come to be known, forged an agreement between the Federalists — led by Alexander Hamilton — and the Anti-Federalists — led by Thomas Jefferson — to locate the federal city in the South while ensuring federal control of the territory, not to exceed 10 miles square. In 1800, the federal government officially moved to Washington, D.C.
Through the years, the courts have consistently upheld federal control of the District and rejected claims that the nation’s capital is “like a state” and therefore due the rights of statehood, including voting representation in Congress. As Chief Justice John Marshall wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court in Loughborough v. Blake (1820), “although in theory it might be more congenial to the spirit of our institutions to admit a representative from the district, it may be doubted whether, in fact, its interests would be rendered thereby the more secure.”
In the late 1970s, a Democratic-controlled Congress proposed a constitutional amendment to grant the District a Congressional vote “as if it were a state,” but the amendment was only ratified by 16 states, falling far short of the 38 states required by the Constitution. Contrast that with the 23rd Amendment permitting the District’s citizens to vote in presidential elections, which was proposed by Congress in June 1960 and ratified by the states less than one year later.
Nevertheless, the push for District “statehood” continues, and the same, tired arguments are always marshaled to support it.
“Taxation Without Representation” is emblazoned across the license plate of almost every car registered in the District. District residents, we are told, pay their fair share of federal taxes and are therefore due equal representation. What this argument fails to recognize, however, is that residence in the federal city is an entirely voluntary act. It also doesn’t address the fact that our Founding Fathers clearly understood residents would live within the District’s boundaries, yet still decided against granting it a vote in Congress.
Our national interest demands a capital city that serves the states and not itself, and for generations the American taxpayers have honored this commitment with generous federal funding. Today, D.C. residents receive the highest allotment of federal dollars per capita in the nation — a whopping $65,109 per person. The next highest allotment goes to Alaskans at $13,950 each. This staggering disparity becomes questionable, however, when you realize that the District’s municipal government is “Exhibit A” for bad administration.
From failing schools that employ grossly underperforming teachers to a penchant for sham contracting that awards millions of taxpayer dollars to shell nonprofit corporations run by the cronies of convicted city leaders, the District is run amok with scandal. In late 2007, federal prosecutors uncovered a $50 million embezzlement scheme on the part of city leaders that spanned more than two decades. This year, the Washington Post revealed that D.C.’s large population of people with AIDS/HIV were being preyed upon by District contractors who received more than $25 million to run treatment centers that never existed.
Astonishingly, Congressional Democrats including the District’s own Congressional Delegate have steadfastly rejected Republican calls to investigate these abuses. Instead, Democratic leaders hope to reward the District with its own vote in Congress.
Not even former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) has the temerity for that kind of kickback.
It’s time to finally stop this decades-long push to subvert the Constitution and carve out another liberal enclave designed to stack the deck of Congressional apportionment. The District of Columbia is not a state; it has never been a state. It’s not even a responsible municipality.
The only acceptable way to seek representation for the District is one that respects our constitutional framework and simultaneously addresses the District’s shortcomings in its duty to serve as our nation’s capital.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.