September 20, 2019 1:36PM

How About Retroceding Washington, D.C. to Maryland?

Yesterday the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing on proposals to make the District of Columbia a state, and as he has done before, Roger Pilon, founder of Cato’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies, testified against the idea.

Speaking for myself, what would make more sense than D.C. statehood? Retroceding the city of Washington, or at least its residential portions, to the state of Maryland. One plan, promoted by activist David Krucoff, would turn it into Douglass County, Maryland, named after the great Frederick Douglass and conveniently retaining the initials D.C.

Maryland retrocession was long dismissed as politically impractical, perhaps because of reluctance in the Old Line State to accept the deal, but those calculations might reasonably begin to shift now that the capital city has grown exceedingly prosperous (thus making it a better fiscal bet) and has politics that no longer diverge as spectacularly from those of its neighbors to the north as in the days of former Mayor Marion Barry.

As every schoolchild is aware, the structure of the U.S. Senate was controversial then and now for allowing an equal voice to states of greatly differing populations, even though this means that less populated states like Delaware, North Dakota, and Alaska can wield the same clout in the upper House as California, Texas, and Florida. D.C. statehood proposals, understandably popular among capital city residents, would launch the fledgling 51st state near the top of the rankings, enjoying a degree of overrepresentation comparable only to Vermont, Wyoming, and perhaps one or two other states. Both the expanded and the current Maryland, by contrast, come out close to the middle of the pack, somewhere around 16th or 19th in rank. The Douglass County idea, or something similar, would as a result not materially worsen the practical disparity between big and small state representation complained of by Senate critics.

Some plans would retain a National Capital Service Area of non‐​residential nature (except for the White House?) to be administered directly by federal legislation. It might be noted, however, that many large and vital installations of the federal government seem to operate fine in states like Virginia (the Pentagon), Maryland (National Security Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission), Kentucky (Fort Knox), and so forth.

Congress originally created the District of Columbia out of land ceded by the states of Maryland and Virginia. The former sections of the capital south of the Potomac River, which now form Arlington and part of the city of Alexandria, were retroceded to Virginia in 1847.