Twenty-two Republican attorneys general have declared they will “challenge any attempt” to make the District of Columbia the 51st state, calling such efforts unconstitutional and bad policy.
“If this Congress passes and President Biden signs this Act into law, we will use every legal tool at our disposal to defend the United States Constitution and the rights of our states from this unlawful effort to provide statehood to the District of Columbia,” the attorneys general wrote in an April 13 letter (pdf) to President Joe Biden and congressional leaders.
The letter comes in response to proposed legislation by non-voting Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), which seeks to shrink the size of the federal district serving as the nation’s capital and establish a new state upon the remaining land. Proponents of Norton’s bill argue that while the Constitution specifies that the federal district can’t exceed “ten miles square,” it doesn’t say it can’t be smaller than that.
The attorneys general rejected their interpretation of what’s known as the Enclave Clause, saying that Congress lacks the authority to alter the size of the federal district in the first place.
“Accordingly, not only does Congress lack the authority to create an entirely new state out of the District, but it also does not have the authority to reduce the size of the District to the equivalent of a few federal buildings and surrounding parks,” they wrote in the letter.
Their letter moved on to warn that D.C. statehood would undermine the design of the Founding Fathers, who decided not to place the capital of the United States within any state, so that no state would be able to exercise excessive influence over the federal government. They also claimed that admitting D.C. as a state would unfairly benefit the city’s residents.
“Its enactment would be antithetical to our representative democratic republic and it would constitute an unprecedented aggrandizement of an elite ruling class with unparalleled power and Federal access compared to the remaining fifty states of the Union,” the letter read.
The argument echoes that of Zack Smith, a legal fellow at conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, who testified last month before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform that D.C. residents already have an unfair influence on federal policies compared to Americans living in the other 50 states.
“How many committee members on their way to this hearing today passed yard signs, banners, or even billboards advocating D.C. statehood? I certainly did,” Smith said in his testimony (pdf) at that time. “Nowhere else in the country would it be possible to reach so many members of Congress so easily.”
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform is set to debate and vote on Norton’s bill on April 14, with a full House vote scheduled for April 19. The bill is currently backed by 215 members of Congress, all of them Democrats.