Since it's just a district, could DC's district lines be redrawn?

And if so, who gets to make that choice?

2 Answers 2


The power to draw boundary lines for districts which are not within any U.S. state is vested in Congress which may do with by law with a bill signed by the President, or passed over a President's veto.

This is mostly governed by Article I, Section 8, Clauses 17 and 18 of the United States Constitution which enumerates the powers of Congress:

17: 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, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And

18: To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Article IV, Section 3 of the United States Constitution is also relevant, as it prohibits Congress from interfering with the boundaries of any state without its consent and expands the powers of Congress with respect to its territory outside of any U.S. state. Since the existing District of Columbia is landlocked, this gives Congress the power to make D.C. smaller, but not larger, if it is not entirely relocated, without Maryland or Virginia's consent.

1: New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State 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.

2: The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

Finally, the 23rd Amendment to the United States Constitution is arguably relevant:

Amendment XXIII (Amendment 23 - Presidential Electors for the District of Columbia)

1: The District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the 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.

2: The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


It has been. The District of Columbia (DC) was originally a square covering an area in both Virginia and Maryland. In 1847, the federal government gave the Virginia portion back. So now it looks like a square with a piece missing out of it.

Some would like to see the same thing happen with most of the Maryland portion. Currently people living in the DC do not have a federal Representative nor Senators. If they were restored to Maryland, then they would be able to vote for Maryland's Senators and entitled to inclusion in a Representative's district (or more than one, as districts aren't required to leave municipalities whole). Given the population size of DC, this would likely give Maryland another Representative in apportionment.

A less extreme proposal would be to reverse the portions of the Organic Act of 1801 which made DC residents not Maryland (nor at that time, Virginia) residents.

  • In line with @ohwilleke's answer, would this require the permission of Maryland? I assume Congress can't force a state to acquire territory any more than it can take it away without consent.
    – Deolater
    Jul 13, 2017 at 13:06
  • @Deolater I doubt that you could change the Organic Act of 1801 whose residency rules applied to people residing there when it was enacted. The current residents have never been Maryland residents and at this point it would require Maryland's consent as it would amount to an involuntary annexation of territory by Maryland (in practice Maryland would probably say yes, but still). Also kudos to Brythan for noting the 1847 recission which I was aware of when I lived in DC but had forgotten about when I wrote my answer.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 13, 2017 at 21:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .