Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin Gets It: D.C. Statehood Requires Constitutional Amendment

COMMENTARY The Constitution

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin Gets It: D.C. Statehood Requires Constitutional Amendment

May 12th, 2021 2 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.
Sen. Joe Manchin speaks during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on April 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Oliver Contreras-Pool / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., recently made clear: “If Congress wants to make D.C. a state, it should propose a constitutional amendment.”

The West Virginia lawmaker explicitly noted that, in his view, the 23rd Amendment poses the primary obstacle to D.C. statehood through simple legislation. I agree. 

No other state owes its very existence to a separate constitutional provision as the District does.

Who says politicians never listen? Fortunately, sometimes they do.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., recently made clear: “If Congress wants to make D.C. a state, it should propose a constitutional amendment … and let the people of America vote.” 

He said April 30 that he and his staff took a “deep dive” into the issue and reached the conclusion that a constitutional amendment would be required for statehood for the District of Columbia.

That’s exactly right. 

In fact, the West Virginia lawmaker raised many of the same points that I raised previously when testifying before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on March 22. 

Manchin specifically cited conclusions reached by the Justice Department under both Republican and Democratic administrations that a constitutional amendment would be required and noted the concerns of even liberal lions like then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. 

The West Virginia lawmaker explicitly noted that, in his view, the 23rd Amendment poses the primary obstacle to D.C. statehood through simple legislation. I agree. 

The 23rd Amendment would have to be repealed before the bulk of the current District of Columbia could be transformed from our nation’s capital into our nation’s 51st state.

Of course, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser dismissively responded that Manchin “is not right” because “all of the states, outside of the first 13, have been admitted to the Union by Congress; it is the exclusive power of the Congress to pass simple legislation on the admission of new states.”

Simply put: So what? 

No other state owes its very existence to a separate constitutional provision as the District does, which is expressly provided for in  the District Clause of the Constitution—Article I, Section 8, Clause 17.  And no other state has a separate constitutional provision to provide it with Electoral College votes. 

In other words, the District of Columbia is unique.

But, unfortunately, Bowser and others pushing for D.C. statehood by simple legislation seem more interested in political theatrics than in those pesky constitutional questions. What else can explain her recent acceptance of membership in the Democratic Governors Association?

As of now, without Manchin on board, D.C. statehood is dead in the Senate—not to mention the fact that other Democratic senators, such as Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., still have not signaled their support, either.

Undeterred, proponents of D.C. statehood are pushing Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, to hold a hearing. But not much is likely to change, as the essential issues were presented at the March 22 House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing.

In the meantime, Manchin should continue to tell his Democratic colleagues in the Senate what’s so: D.C. statehood requires a constitutional amendment.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal.