As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares for a historic vote on the issue later today, Legal Aid strongly urges every member of Congress to support making the District of Columbia the 51st state of the Union. The case for D.C. statehood has always been compelling, but in light of the national pandemic and a renewed spotlight on deep racial inequities, it is more powerful now than ever.
The District of Columbia is more populous than Vermont and Wyoming, and its more than 705,000 residents pay more in taxes than do the residents of 22 of the 50 states. Yet D.C. has no representation in Congress. D.C.’s lone delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, is a non-voting member of the House, and D.C. lacks a voice all together in the Senate. And unique to the District and the District alone, any permanent changes to our laws must be sent to Congress for a period of 30 days (or 60 days for certain criminal legislation) before becoming effective.
Moreover, as Mayor Muriel Bowser stated in a recent Washington Post op-ed: “the fight for statehood cannot be separated from the fight for racial justice.” Black people make up a larger proportion of the population in the District than in any other state. In recent months and weeks, the absence of a voice and autonomy in governance had concrete -- very clearly racially disparate -- consequences: D.C. was unable to resist federal riot teams and National Guard members from other states entering its borders to police the protests, for instance, and D.C. received substantially less in federal Coronavirus stimulus funds than other similarly situated states, even though it had more infections.
A vote like the one that will be held today presents the United States with a unique opportunity to live up to its ideals. Congress last held a vote on D.C. statehood in 1993. It is time to end what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called an “unjust, unequal, undemocratic and unacceptable” political artifact of history. It is time to grant statehood to the District of Columbia.