DC Statehood has been in the news recently, and I'm wondering about the logistics of it. First, take this excerpt from Article IV Section 3 of the Constitution:

New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress.

Although I would imagine DC is not considered to be under the jurisdiction of Maryland or Virginia, it seems to be at the junction of the two states, right? Also, how would we define "part?" Is DC a "part" of Maryland? So would DC statehood technically require approval from the Maryland and Virginia state legislatures?

Now, here's an excerpt from Article I Section 8

The Congress shall have Power To… exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such Dis­trict (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Con­gress, become the Seat of the Gov­ernment of the United States…

Giving Congress the power to "exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatshoever, over such District" seems pretty mutually exclusive with statehood. Would the Constitution need to be amended for DC statehood?

  • 5
    Junction here refers to the act of joining, not to a location at which things join. That is why it's "by the junction" rather than "at the junction."
    – phoog
    Jan 8, 2021 at 1:05
  • @phoog That makes much more sense. Thanks!
    – N. Bar
    Jan 8, 2021 at 17:01

3 Answers 3


Probably not

Maryland gave consent by ceding the land that became DC back when DC was first formed. Virginia had originally ceded a matching piece of land, which would have made the district a neat square 10 miles by 10 miles. Decades later, the Virginia General Assembly voted (in February 1846) to request the return of Alexandria in a process known as retrocession. On July 9, 1846, Congress voted to return all the area that had been ceded by Virginia. Since then, the district has consisted only of the land originally ceded by Maryland.

When Article IV Section 3 says "by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states" it means by joining two states into one new one, or by cutting off parts of two of more states and making them a state -- doing either of those requires the consent of the states involved, but not an amendment.

Article I Section 8 could be satisfied by creating a smaller district, perhaps just the Mall and the public buildings surrounding it, including the White House and the Capitol, but no residential areas. In any case nothing in Article I Section 8 mandates the creation or retention of a Federal district.

It could be argued that making DC a state would require the consent of Maryland, which once included that land. Or it could be argued that Maryland's original cession left it with no further authority over that land (I favor the latter view). But no consent of Virginia would be needed, because none of its original land is included in the current district.

In any case, Article IV Section 3 seems to give Congress this power, with no need for an amendment, only possibly for Maryland approval. So it appears that the primary body that would have to approve statehood for DC would be Congress. Whether approval from Maryland would also be needed is unclear -- probably not. No other body would need to approve.

However, there is no case law on the matter, and such a move might well be challenged by those who would not want DC to elect two senators.

  • Virginia did not withdraw its consent. The present day Arlington county (more or less) was part of the district for a few decades. Then it was given back to Virginia.
    – phoog
    Jan 8, 2021 at 1:03
  • @phoog Really? If so my understanding is incorrect, which it might well be. I will check and adjust my answer if need be. But the point that no part of the present district was ever part of Virginia is unchanged. Jan 8, 2021 at 1:09
  • @phoog Thanks! I have corrected my answer. I believe I was remembering a different withdrawn cession, the one which almost created the ["state" of Franklin ](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_Franklin) Jan 8, 2021 at 1:40
  • It's not clear that, once Maryland ceded the land, that that bell can be unrung. Ability of a state to withdraw consent after the fact was the very question prosecuted in the Civil War. Of course, if all the parties agree, then there won't be any challenge. I don't see any answer actually talking about who the relevant parties are though.
    – grovkin
    Jan 8, 2021 at 2:31
  • @grovkin I have updated my answer to try to address your point. Jan 8, 2021 at 2:52

So would DC statehood technically require approval from the Maryland and Virginia state legislatures?

No. Washington DC was ceded from Maryland and Virginia (Virginia's portion was returned in 1847) and is no longer part of any state.

Would the Constitution need to be amended for DC statehood?


The Federal government would have to cede Washington DC to the potential new state since the Constitution gives "exclusive" lawmaking ability - if they didn't do that then the state would have no ability to make laws. However, there is nothing in the Constitution requiring a Federal Capital - just that they can have one if they want one. Even if there were, the "Dis­trict (not exceeding ten Miles square)" could be reduced to purely essential land - the land of the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court would be sufficient. All other "Federal" buildings could be on state land.

  • Also, a State of Columbia wouldn't have to include 100% of the territory of D.C. It could leave a few dozen blocks in D.C. for example, while including the rest of D.C. in a new state, sidestepping the 23rd Amendment issue. Most proposals to grant D.C. statehood do this.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 9, 2021 at 5:27

There's a possibility there might be, but not for the reasons you might think. The 23rd Amendment reads as follows (bold added for emphasis):

The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as Congress may direct:

A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.

This might have to recieve a repeal amendment should D.C. either achieve statehood or the Maryland half be ceded back to Maryland sans the portion with federal offices (an alternate compromise plan that would basically make D.C. residents Maryland Residents and leave the area around the National Mall with only Government buisness buildings residency free... save for that one house...

Either way, it might create an inequity in states between D.C. and the other 50 on paper only (D.C. still has less population than the least populous state in the union and there's no real likelyhood for that to change, so it will never happen, but if D.C. were to ever be large enough to warrent two representatives, this could maybe lock them into only thee electors if they were a state.

Admittance into the union is unlikely and will likely not be until a territory that favors Republicans is up for consideratin as well (historically, most new States were added into the union in multiples of two, and it was usaully to preserve the current balance of the political power in seats in seats in the Senate. D.C., which is historically pro-democrat is largely supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans because it's two free seats in the Senate which has hovered closer to a 50/50 split throughout history. The counter proposal of cede it back to Maryland is more favored by Republicans as it would only add a single seat to the House, as opposed to one house seat and two senate seats statehood will net.).

  • 1
    "D.C. still has less population than the least populous state in the union" The population of Wyoming is 578,759 but the population of DC is 684,498
    – N. Bar
    Jan 8, 2021 at 18:22

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