- - Sunday, February 23, 2020

In a vote that it would be an understatement to call anticlimactic, the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 11 approved legislation that would make the District of Columbia the nation’s 51st state.

The more than six hours of debate that preceded the vote to send the measure to the full House was likewise pro forma. The Democrats’ control of the lower chamber ensured committee passage of the D.C. Admission Act.

Predictably, the 21-16 committee vote was entirely along party lines. When it goes to the House floor, passage is all but assured there, too, because it has 223 Democratic co-sponsors in the 435-member chamber.

It’s altogether fitting that the D.C. Admission Act was given the designation H.R. 51 (as in, the 51st state). That’s because the legislation is nothing if not an exercise in symbolism over substance: Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s nonvoting congressional delegate and the lead sponsor of the bill, knows full well it will go nowhere fast in the Republican-controlled Senate. (And it shouldn’t.)

It’s doubtful that the D.C. Admission Act will even get a vote in the Senate — first and foremost because it’s unconstitutional. As James Madison explained in Federalist No. 43, the national capital needed (and still does) to be distinct from the states to provide for its own safety and maintenance. Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution makes clear that Congress has the power “to exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District as may become the Seat of the Government of the United States.” Carving a so-called “federal enclave” out of the city, as the bill does, doesn’t change that.

Moreover, it required a constitutional amendment — the 23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961 — just to give residents of the District the right to vote in presidential elections. As such, how could making the city a state not also require a constitutional amendment?

Whether statehood backers like it or not, it will require an amendment, with passage by two-thirds votes of both houses of Congress and ratification by 38 states — not just a simple-majority vote of Congress and the president’s signature — for the city to become the 51st state.

But an end-justifies-the-means “what’s the Constitution among friends?” mentality drives the bill’s backers, who are all but salivating like Pavlov’s dog at the prospect of a guaranteed two additional Democrats in the Senate in perpetuity in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 12-1.

That all of the Democratic presidential aspirants support the bill — in clear contravention of a president’s oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” — is reason enough to keep them from ever sitting in the Oval Office.

Their rote recitation of statehood proponents’ talking points that the District has a larger population than two states and that its residents pay more in federal taxes than about 20 states doesn’t justify shredding the Constitution. (They don’t tell you the District is about 1/18th the size of Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state, and that the District would be even smaller than that with the federal enclave carved out.)

But the D.C. Admission Act also comes at a time when the District of Columbia is actively engaged in a serious debate about whether to decriminalize prostitution, or what The Washington Post euphemistically refers to as “sex work” (although it’s not clear how that makes it any less unsavory).

That decriminalization of prostitution is actively under consideration in the District underscores the fact that there’s no idea — no matter how extreme or how far out of the mainstream — that it won’t reject out of hand. It’s yet another reason why the District should never be granted statehood, 51st or otherwise.

D.C.’s predilection for this sort of “progressivism” (another euphemism) was why Congress, in granting the city limited “home rule” in 1973, retained its right to overturn the D.C. government’s worst legislative impulses.

It was 20 years later, in 1993, that Congress last considered statehood for the District of Columbia. It failed then 277-153, with even 40 percent of House Democrats opposed. Nothing in the 27 years since then has changed to make D.C. statehood any less bad of an idea. But if the District of Columbia is to be made the 51st state, it must be through a constitutional amendment.

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