For 218 years, residents of the District of Columbia have lived in our country as American citizens without equal representation or equal self-government. This disrespects service members and veterans who call Washington D.C. home and are denied equal rights that other Americans enjoy. Over two centuries after the founding of our country, it is important that we don’t forget that nearly 700,000 citizens are denied the right to have their voices heard in Congress.
Campaign Legal Center (CLC) recently endorsed H.R. 51: Washington, D.C. Admission Act. H.R. 51 is Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton's most recent attempt calling for the District of Columbia to be “admitted to the Union on equal footing with the other states.” Admitting the District fully into the Union would entitle 700,000 Americans the access to the same rights the rest of the country has, including one voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, two U.S. Senators, and the ability to form a full state government.
The District has a population that is larger than that of Wyoming and Vermont and is also comparable in size to another three states. However, the District’s representation consists of a City Mayor and council with limited jurisdiction, as well as a non-voting member in Congress. This lack of representation in government needs to change.
H.R. 51 is not the first call for statehood. Residents of the District have been advocating for the same rights as the rest of America for decades now, and in the three decades since Congresswoman Norton was elected in 1990, she has introduced legislation nearly every session that would grant statehood, but to no avail.
However, this attempt is different. H.R. 51 already has earned significant support in the House with over 200 cosponsors, and in the Senate with over 30 cosponsors. It just gained a critical endorsement from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer who has agreed to cosponsor the bill. Most importantly, however, is the news that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform has granted H.R. 51 a committee hearing on July 24, 2019, the first hearing on statehood in 26 years.
The District has historically been denied a meaningful say in government and public policy based on the race, political affiliation, and socioeconomic status of its citizens. It is not until recently that citizens of the District were able to have some autonomy over their fate.
Denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of citizens solely because they happen to reside near the Capitol should no longer stand. It is time for Congress to act and give the residents of the District the same rights and essential voice in the government as the rest of America.
This post was written by Aaron Carrell, a 2019 CLC Hinckley intern, and student at the University of Utah.