The Framers of our Constitution wanted our nation's capital to be separate and apart from any state. They understood that the seat of our federal government should be a place where all Americans can conduct our nation's business free from the influence of any particular state. Today, the District of Columbia serves that function, as it has for over two centuries.
Some today, though, doubt the wisdom of the Framers’ decision and argue that the District of Columbia should be converted into our nation's 51st state. More problematically, they argue this can be accomplished by a simple act of Congress.
It cannot. Converting the District of Columbia—the current seat of our federal government—into a state would require a constitutional amendment.
Even some scholars sympathetic to converting most of the current District of Columbia into a state and retaining only a small federal enclave consisting of the Capitol Building, the White House and the immediately surrounding areas, concede the Founders never intended for D.C. to become a state.
Moreover, many who advocate for D.C. statehood ignore the concerns that the District's elected leaders have raised in the past about this prospect. Walter E. Washington, the District's first elected home rule mayor, said converting the District into a state while separating out the existing federal interests “would erode the very fabric of the city itself, and the viability of the city” because the two are so intertwined.
From a practical perspective, the district-as-a-state would lack industries and amenities that are found in almost every other state and which it currently relies on other states or the federal government to provide.
Sadly, some supporters of D.C. statehood have claimed that opposition to this idea has racist roots. But that's just not true. This claim is nothing more than a ploy to stifle debate and smear anyone who raises long-standing historical, practical and constitutional objections to D.C. statehood.
As one Justice Department report succinctly put it, “Statehood for the District of Columbia is not a racial issue. It is not a civil rights issue. It is a constitutional issue that goes to the very foundation of our federal union.”
In short, there are compelling practical and constitutional reasons why the District of Columbia should not become a state. But even if opponents disagree with these reasons, they must follow the proper process and pass a constitutional amendment to change the district's status.
This piece originally appeared in the CQ Researcher