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The D.C. Penal Reform Law that Calls into Question the District’s Statehood

The District of Columbia passed a new law - one that the U-S Congress may overturn. This has brought up questions of the District’s own sovereignty over its own laws.

A penal reform law that was approved by the DC city council may be overturned by Congress in a vote today. If overturned, this will be the first time in 30 years Congress has nullified a local D.C law. This has brought up questions of Washington D.C’s statehood.

We spoke to Monica Hopkins who is the executive director of The American Civil Liberties Union, also known as the ACLU. Her knowledge of the D.C. district presents the problem on how the D.C. legislation is practiced in its jurisdiction.

HOPKINS: A little bit about DC itself. D.C. is not a state. It is actually one of the only capital cities whose residents cannot vote in the government that actually represents us. And a lot of people would say, ‘Oh well, it’s in the Constitution that DC can’t be a state’, which is absolutely false. What the Constitution says is that the federal government, the federal seat of government should be no more than ten square miles. It does not say how small it can be.

To the surprise of Democrats, President Biden pledged full support behind the Republican-backed effort to overturn the law. Outrage was imminent from Democrats and members of The American Civil Liberties Union.

The Washington Branch of the ACLU said: “President Biden’s support to overturn the Revised Criminal Code Act undermines D.C’s fight for statehood and maintaining home rule.”

The DC city council chair has since tried to withdraw the law from congressional consideration, but to no avail. Monica Hopkins simplifies for us what the people of D.C. are currently dealing with.

HOPKINS: So imagine living in California. You elected people to a legislative body. That legislative body passes laws, but they are not the final deciders. The final deciders are every other state has elected people and that body of elected officials. That is not yours to decide if those laws should be kept or if they should be done away with.

Statehood would accomplish two things for D.C: representation in Congress and a government independent from congressional rule.

In a city of more than 700,000 residents, there is overwhelming support for statehood. In a 2016 referendum, 86% of D.C voters were in favor of becoming a state.

This statehood question has been ongoing for a while now, but this matter has become more prevalent since the discussion of the penal reform that directly affects D.C.

For Annenberg Media, I’m Skye Lee.