The Democratic-controlled House in Congress is moving ahead with a bill that would make Washington, D.C., the 51st state.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has joined with 21 other Republican attorneys general to send a letter to President Joe Biden and congressional leadership arguing making D.C. a state is unconstitutional and threatening a protracted legal battle to fight the move.
The bill known as the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, calls for shrinking the independent area that serves as the nation’s capital while turning the surrounding area into a new state that would be known as the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, named after famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents Washington, D.C. is the sponsor. There are 215 co-sponsors of the bill, all Democrats.
“If this Congress passes and President Biden signs this Act into law, we will use every legal tool at our disposal to defend the United States Constitution and the rights of our States from this unlawful effort to provide statehood to the District of Columbia,” reads the letter.
The notion of D.C. statehood has caused a sharp partisan debate in Congress. Democrats argue residents of D.C. are not represented adequately in Congress despite being taxpayers. Republicans counter the Democrats want to make D.C. a state to gain two more Democratic Senators, tipping the partisan balance in that chamber. The District of Columbia has a larger population than both Vermont and Wyoming.
The group argues Congress has the power to admit new states to the union, but it does not have the authority to grant that status to D.C., which is specifically spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. They say since D.C. was created by the Constitution, it would take a Constitutional amendment to make it a state.
“We assure you that we will challenge any attempt to provide the District of Columbia with the actual benefits of statehood if Congress passes it and the President attempts to sign it into law,” they write.
University of Texas law professor and CNN legal expert Steve Vladeck disagrees with the argument that making D.C. a state is unconstitutional, publishing a Twitter thread that calls constitutional objections to the idea “bunk.”
“The letter is an effort to uphold the Constitution, plain and simple. The proposed legislation is a partisan power grab,” Utah Solicitor General Melissa Holyoak said in a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune. “We join the other 21 states who believe the intent of the Founding Fathers was clear. The only lawful way for the District of Columbia to obtain statehood is to amend the Constitution.”
Along with Utah, the letter was signed by the attorneys general of South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, West Virginia, Idaho, Kansas, Arizona, and Oklahoma.
The House Oversight Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill Wednesday with an expected vote by the full House next week.
Last month, Reyes joined with 11 other GOP A.G.’s to sue President Joe Biden for overstepping his authority by issuing an executive order to fight climate change.