Constitutional scholars say D.C. can become state without congressional amendment

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, who supports the D.C. statehood bill, says their letter makes him "more optimistic than ever."

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A group of dozens of congressional scholars sent a letter to the U.S. Congress imploring and advising them to use its authority to make the District of Columbia the nation’s 51st state.

Its 39 signatories — which include renowned professors from Harvard Law, UC Berkeley Law and University of Michigan Law School — assert that “As scholars of the United States Constitution, we write to correct claims that the D.C. Admission Act is vulnerable to a constitutional challenge in the courts.”

A protester rallies in March in support of District of Columbia statehood near the U.S. Capitol. Washington D.C. has a population of nearly 700,000 residents with zero congressional representation. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

They add that there is “no constitutional barrier” to D.C. “entering the Union through a congressional proclamation, pursuant to the Constitution’s Admissions Clause, just like the 37 other states that have been admitted since the Constitution was adopted.”

The Washington D.C. Admission Act, HR 51, was introduced in January of 2021 and passed the House of Representatives on April 22. If enacted, the new state would be named Washington, Douglass Commonwealth after abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

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“This bill provides for admission into the United States of the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, composed of most of the territory of the District of Columbia. The commonwealth shall be admitted to the Union on an equal footing with the other states,” it reads.

“The commonwealth (1) shall consist of all District territory,” the Admission Act continues, “with specified exclusions for federal buildings and monuments, including the principal federal monuments, the White House, the Capitol Building, the U.S. Supreme Court Building, and the federal executive, legislative, and judicial office buildings located adjacent to the Mall and the Capitol Building; and (2) may not impose taxes on federal property except as Congress permits.”

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D.C. state admission faces a steep road to pass in the Senate, and Monday’s letter gives fuel to supporters of the bill wanting to see it signed by President Joe Biden, who has said that he supports statehood for Washington D.C.

The district has 700,000 residents who currently have no representation in Congress.

Republicans and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin have argued that statehood requires an act of amending the constitution. These scholars say otherwise.

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In their letter, they write, “Congress’s exercise of its express constitutional authority to decide to admit a new state is a classic political question, which courts are highly unlikely to interfere with, let alone attempt to bar.”

Without mentioning West Virginia’s Manchin by name, the scholars note that the validity admission of that state into the Union in 1863 was argued in the Supreme Court, which did not bar but supported and approved its statehood.

Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, who supports the D.C. statehood initiative, notes the scholars’ letter confirms what he has previously said: D.C. is taking the same route as 37 states before it. He said the missive makes him “more optimistic than ever.”

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