Recent Moves for Statehood Are Nothing More Than a Power Grab

COMMENTARY Political Process

Recent Moves for Statehood Are Nothing More Than a Power Grab

Feb 10th, 2021 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Zack Smith

Legal Fellow, Meese Center

Zack is a legal fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks as U.S. House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) listens during a news conference on District of Columbia statehood June 25, 2020. Alex Wong / Staff / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Manchin, Sinema, and other senators are on record as being opposed to going “nuclear”—or eliminating—the legislative filibuster.

This path would be the filibuster’s death by a thousand cuts.

If these senators want to support D.C. Statehood, they can do so without supporting this particular pathway of achieving it.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have to ask themselves two simple questions:

Are they going to support their pledges not to eliminate the legislative filibuster, or are they going to support the constitutionally dubious, thinly-veiled power grab of making Washington, D.C., a state via simple legislation?

It’s not hyperbole to say that this latter path is nothing more than a naked power grab.

A recent article in the Washington Post Magazine quotes a D.C. statehood advocate as saying, “Democrats are shifting toward uniform support for statehood because they realize it’s one of the only ways they can gain power that’s equivalent to their numbers in the greater population.”

That same article goes on to say that one of the main advocacy groups pushing for D.C. statehood legislation is being backed by progressive “national organizations ... whose stalled policy agendas could advance with the help of senators from a new state.”

Of course, Manchin, Sinema, and other senators are on record as being opposed to going “nuclear”—or eliminating—the legislative filibuster.

They’re wise to do so. As my Heritage colleague Tom Jipping has written, “Eliminating the legislative filibuster would be a dangerous idea [because] it would destroy more of the limits on government that are necessary to protect our liberty.”

>>> Defending the Filibuster, the Last Safeguard of Minority Rights

Furthermore, as Jipping explained, it’s been a part of the “Senate’s legislative process since the turn of the 19th century,” and would frustrate the Framers’ goal of having the Senate be a more deliberative body—Washington’s proverbial saucer that cools the House’s hot tea.

In an effort to give an “out” to these and other hesitant senators, advocacy groups are calling “for a ‘carve-out,’ which would eliminate the 60-vote threshold solely for the issue of statehood.”

But that would really be a pyrrhic victory for the filibuster.

Other groups are already calling for their own special-interest carve-outs too. For example, the Brady Campaign is pushing the Senate to push through gun control legislation with “a simple majority vote.”

Essentially, this path would be the filibuster’s death by a thousand cuts.

But let’s assume that the carve-out really would remain limited only to the admission of new states. Would that be abused in an attempt to fundamentally transform our system of government?

We don’t have to guess.

An article in the Harvard Law Review published in January 2020 argues that Congress has the power to admit D.C. as a state via simple legislation, but instead of admitting it as only one state, it should instead admit each “of the District’s 127 neighborhoods as states” and then ram through a series of radical proposals that would fundamentally transform the country.

Its author says that the “people should ... fight fire with fire, and use the unfair provisions of the Constitution to create a better system.”

>>> D.C. Statehood Bill Is Constitutionally Dubious and Pragmatically Flawed

It’s doubtful this proposal would do that since in large part, the rule of law is the law of rules. Changing the rules only to benefit your side is what dictatorial regimes do.

There are good reasons not to support D.C. Statehood, but if these senators want to support it, they can do so without supporting this particular pathway of achieving it.

After all, the Constitution itself provides an indisputable pathway for D.C. to achieve statehood through the Constitution’s Article V amendment process.

This piece originally appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer