Thursday, December 04, 2008

States' rights

Matt Yglesias revives the possibility that the other Washington might be ripe for statehood under the new administration. Congress has the power to create new states without a constitutional amendment. The population of DC wants it. A compromise was actually worked out during the last congress but not acted on. The only problem to its passage was the fact that Republicans in the Senate would almost certainly have filibustered the bill out of fear that it would result in the Democrats getting two more Senate seats (in the last election everyone in DC voted for Obama, with the exception of Pat and Bay Buchanan). That compromise could pass in this congress with the support of one of the senators from Utah (the compromise involved giving Utah an extra House seat for the Mormons on overseas missions). The discussion in Yglesias' comments raises and answers most of the relevant questions. They are:

Do we need to cut a smaller federal district out of the new state? Yglesias thinks we do and even has a map of his proposed tiny district. Several commenters and I think it's unnecessary. Most European capitols are just cities with no special jurisdiction. The original point in a federal district was that, in a federal system, the state with the capitol would have an unfair advantage over the other states. The compromise was to see that no state had the capitol. Several countries with federal systems, besides the US, have gone down this path, but plenty of others have not and incurred no special problems from making that choice.

How do we arrange the stars on the flag to fit fifty-one? That's already been figured out. The answer is alternating rows of eight and nine stars. To make it esthetically balanced it helps to lengthen the blue field. Another possibility is to give up on the star-for-state motif and go back to the circle of thirteen stars.

What will we call the state? Columbia seems kind of redundant. There is already a country of that name in the Western Hemisphere and a province of that name in Canada. Greece objects to letting the country to their north use the name Macedonia because they have a province of that name. They claim anyone else using the name is an implicit claim on their territory and a threat to their territorial sovereignty. I don't think Columbia or Canada is quite that insecure, but why risk it? This is a chance to add a new name to the map. Washington is taken. Don't even think about something lame like East Washington. Potomac is a good possibility. Anacostia (the name of a small river that runs through the south side of the city) is nice. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

Will they need to have a separate state and city governments? No. There is no law preventing a state from being a single incorporated municipality. Many countries have city states/provinces. Rather than build a second set of government buildings for the state government, It's perfectly okay to simply change the names of everything; the mayor becomes the governor and the assembly becomes the legislature. It's not even necessary to have a state senate; Nebraska has a unicameral legislature and does just fine. The biggest expense for the new government would be ordering new stationary.

Should these people get to have the same vote as everyone else in the country? Some one actually asked that question. SamChevre wrote, "I’m in favor... as long as we get an amendment that no one getting a government check that represents more than half their income may vote." Of course if this rule were applied to all states, as it would have to be, it would mean that all civil servants, active military, Congress, their staffs, welfare, social security, unemployment, and military pension recipients would be disenfranchised. there was, in fact a time when the military and the residents of DC were not allowed to vote. DC finally received the right to vote for president in 1961 and the last state laws against military voting were finally thrown out in 1971. SamChevre's comment gives voice to a trend I noticed among conservative pundits during the election, who seriously suggested that this democracy thing should be rolled back. Some advocated removing the right to vote from certain groups (those inclined to vote Democratic). Others suggested giving additional votes to more "deserving" voters (the rich). This is a very disturbing trend that we should keep an eye on.

Are you really sure we don't need an amendment? Not according to my reading of the constitution. The twenty-third amendment regulates the voting rights and (limited) representation of the district, but doesn't require us to have a district. Article one, section eight gives Congress power over a federal district, but I don't read that as requiring us to have on. Perhaps any constitutional scholars out there can shed further light on the question.

Any other new states on the horizon? Puerto Rico is the leading contender. Statehood for Puerto Rico would deal a near fatal blow to the English national language movement and would be worth it just for that. The independence movement is almost as strong as the statehood movement in Puerto Rico. The Pacific island territories of Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Marianas are more distant contenders. The problem for all of the island territories is that we have created so many economic advantages for them in their current statuses that it would be a step backward for them to trade those in for a few seats in Congress. Finally, if Canada ever breaks up, the Maritime provinces would be ripe for joining, though Ontario and the western provinces would be more inclined to go it alone.

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