On April 16th, D.C.-based voting rights activists plan to meet with Congressional offices to encourage support for D.C. statehood. Statehood advocates are calling on Congress to cosponsor, hold hearings on, and vote for the New Columbia Admission Act — legislation that would grant full citizenship rights to the disenfranchised residents of Washington, D.C. In anticipation of Wednesday’s lobby day on the Hill, I feel compelled to go on record about the constitutionality of statehood for the citizens of D.C. That D.C. statehood is unconstitutional is the single most common misconception I hear when discussing D.C. governance with Congressional staff and opponents of D.C. voting rights generally. So let me be absolutely clear on this issue: Statehood for the residents of D.C. is Constitutional. Now here’s why. The D.C. statehood bill does two things, both of which have precedent without any constitutional amendments.
First, the legislation shrinks the size of the federal district to include a small portion of D.C. where representatives from other states conduct federal business. The Constitution doesn’t say you can’t shrink the federal district; it only says it can’t be larger than “ten miles square” (100 square miles, in modern English). The District has been shrunk before without any changes to the U.S. Constitution, notably when the District ceded much of its southwestern portion to Virginia in the 1840s.
Secondly, the legislation would introduce the residential land currently in the District of Columbia into the United States as the 51st state. Again, states have joined the union without constitutional amendments as recently as 1959 (see: Alaska, Hawaii).
Put simply, given that shrinking the federal district and introducing new states are legal in accordance with the Constitution, current D.C. statehood legislation can be passed and implemented without constitutional amendments or the potential for violating the foundational principles of U.S. law.