Norton Releases Her Rules Committee Testimony on D.C. Statehood Bill

Apr 20, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) testified this morning at the House Rules Committee hearing on her D.C. statehood bill today on behalf of House Democrats. Immediately after the hearing, the committee will vote on a rule that will govern consideration of the bill when it comes to the House floor later this week. The general public can watch the hearing live at rules.house.gov.

“The Rules Committee hearing and vote are the final steps before another historic House vote on my D.C. statehood bill this week,” Norton said. “The hearing gives us another opportunity to inform the American people that 712,000 D.C. residents pay full federal taxes but are denied voting representation in Congress and full control over their local affairs. With 54 percent of Americans supporting D.C. statehood, according to a recent poll, and Democrats controlling the House, the Senate, and the White House, we have never been more optimistic about statehood.”

Last year, the House passed H.R. 51, which was the first time in history a chamber had passed the D.C. statehood bill. This year, H.R. 51 has 216 cosponsors, virtually guaranteeing a second House passage. The Senate version of the bill, S. 51, sponsored by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), has a record 44 cosponsors.

Norton’s testimony, as prepared for delivery, follows.

 

Testimony of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

House Committee on Rules

Hearing on H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act

April 20, 2021

Chairman McGovern, Ranking Member Cole and Members of the Committee, I am speaking for the Committee on Oversight and Reform, as well as for myself, in strong support of H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act.  This bill would admit the State of Washington, D.C. into the Union and reduce the size of the federal district. 

Last year, the House passed H.R. 51, which was the first time in history a chamber had passed the D.C. statehood bill.  This year, H.R. 51 has 216 cosponsors, and the Senate version of the bill, S. 51, sponsored by Senator Tom Carper, has a record 44 cosponsors.  We have never been closer to statehood.

Under H.R. 51, the State of Washington, D.C. would consist of 66 of the 68 square miles of the present-day federal district.  Congress would retain plenary authority over the reduced federal district, which would be two square miles and consist of the Washington that people associate with the nation’s capital, including the U.S. Capitol complex, the White House, the Supreme Court, the principal federal monuments and the National Mall.

Congress has both the moral obligation and constitutional authority to pass H.R. 51.  This country was founded on the principles of no taxation without representation and consent of the governed, but D.C. residents are taxed without representation and the United States is the only democratic country that denies voting representation in the national legislature to the residents of the capital.

H.R. 51 complies with the Constitution, including the Admissions Clause, the District Clause and the 23rd Amendment. 

The Admissions Clause gives Congress the authority to admit new states, which it has previously done 37 times.  The only limitation on Congress’ authority to admit new states is that it cannot create a new state from an existing state without the existing state’s consent.  The State of Washington, D.C. would be created from land ceded by the federal government, not an existing state.

The District Clause gives Congress plenary authority over the federal district and establishes a maximum size of the federal district—100 square miles.  It does not establish a minimum size or a location of the federal district.  Congress reduced the size of the federal district by 30 percent in 1846.

 The 23rd Amendment, which allows the federal district to participate in the Electoral College, also does not establish a minimum size or a location of the federal district.

While the Constitution does not establish any prerequisites for new states, Congress generally has considered three elements in admission decisions: population and resources, support for statehood and commitment to democracy.  D.C. meets all three.

D.C.’s population is larger than two states, and the State of Washington, D.C. would be one of seven states with a population under one million.  D.C. pays more federal taxes per capita than any state and pays more federal taxes than 21 states.  D.C. has a gross domestic product larger than 17 states.  D.C.’s bond rating is higher than the rating of 32 states.

In 2016, 86 percent of D.C. residents voted for statehood.  D.C. residents have been petitioning for voting representation in Congress and local autonomy for 220 years.

As American citizens, D.C. residents are entitled to equal citizenship, but they have also earned it.  They have fought in every American war, including the war that led to the creation of the nation itself, the Revolutionary War.  D.C. servicemembers have helped secure voting rights for people throughout the world, yet have always been denied those same rights when they returned home.

My own family has lived in D.C. since my great-grandfather Richard Holmes, as a slave, walked away from a plantation in Virginia and made his way to D.C. almost 200 years ago.  Richard Holmes made it as far as D.C., a walk to freedom but not to equal citizenship so far for our family.

Congress must no longer exclude D.C. residents from the democratic process, forcing them to watch from the sidelines as Congress votes on laws that affect the nation or votes even on the laws enacted by the duly elected D.C. government.  Democracy requires much more.  D.C. residents demand much more.  D.C. residents deserve full voting representation in the Senate and the House and complete control over their local affairs.  They deserve statehood.

Congress can continue to exercise autocratic authority over the 712,000 American citizens who reside in our nation’s capital, treating them, in the words of Frederick Douglass, the inspiration for the name of the new state, as “aliens, not citizens, but subjects.”  Or Congress can live up to the nation’s promise and ideals, end taxation without representation and pass H.R. 51. 

Mr. Chairman, I want to close by thanking both you and Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney for your leadership on D.C. statehood.

 

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