DC Statehood – What it is and why it matters

Washington, DC is our nation’s capital. It is home to roughly 712,000 residents, a vibrant city on the Potomac River, straddling Virginia and Maryland. DC license plates read “taxation without representation.” You’ve probably heard over the past few months that DC is seeking statehood, but what exactly does that mean?

Washington, DC is actually not a state. Rather, it is a federal district under the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of the United States Congress. This is unique in America. In fact, the United States is the only country in the world with a representative, democratic government that denies voting representation in Congress, our national legislature, to the citizens of its capital city. This means that all local legislation affecting the city, including the city’s budget, must go before Congress for approval. Congress has used this power as an opportunity to interfere in local affairs, something it is unable to do in any other city in the country.

While DC residents are citizens of the United States just like any other resident in the country, they lack representation in Congress (and yes, they do pay federal taxes, as the license plates suggest). Smaller states by population, such as Vermont and Wyoming, are represented in Congress while DC is not. In practice, this means that policy decisions affecting everything from DC residents’ health and welfare to the public schools are made by a political body that does not represent the interests of, and is not accountable to, the residents of DC. Statehood is essential in order for DC residents to be fully represented in the halls of Congress, and so that local government can exercise full control over local affairs.

Common Cause supports H.R. 51, the Washington, DC Admission Act, which would make DC the 51st state. DC residents have paid taxes and fought and died in every war in our nation’s history. They have been treated as second-class citizens even though they pay the highest per-capita federal income taxes in the nation, and pay more in total federal income tax than 22 states. During the summer of 2020, DC residents peacefully protesting near the White House were tear-gassed, with limited means of filing grievances. The majority of DC residents are people of color, who are already unrepresented in our country’s political systems; without statehood, they are further disenfranchised. DC hosts our federal government, yet its residents are denied representation in that very government. It is time to end taxation without representation. DC statehood is a civil rights and social justice issue.

H.R. 51 has more than 200 co-sponsors in the House. Companion legislation in the Senate, S. 51, is supported by nearly half of Senators. If you support DC statehood, let your congressional representatives know!