The FBI is slated to move from Pennsylvania Avenue to a suburban site in Maryland or Virginia, but one D.C. statehood advocate says he'll sue to stop it.
What does a new headquarters for the FBI have to do with the fight for D.C. statehood? To most people, not much. But to one D.C. attorney, it's leverage.
Johnny Barnes, a former head of the ACLU of the Nation's Capital and a longtime statehood advocate, announced over the weekend that he plans on filing a lawsuit to stop federal agencies like the FBI from moving out of D.C. — unless the city is granted statehood.
"We've been like willows in the wind, allowing the federal government to breach its promises that it made back in 1801 to keep all federal agencies in the District of Columbia," he said in an interview. "We're drawing the line on the FBI."
In the lawsuit, Barnes says that the federal government's presence in the city is part of a tradeoff for residents being denied voting representation. Once federal agencies started decamping to the suburbs in 1938, he says, the agreement between the government and D.C. residents was broken.
"There was... a clear, bargained-for exchange of promises when the District was created," he argues in the lawsuit. "The federal government and the Founding Fathers promised that the District would enjoy federal patronage and the special economic benefit of that patronage. In exchange, District residents agreed to sacrifice the key privileges of state citizenship, including sovereignty and political standing."
In the lawsuit, Barnes asks a judge to order that federal agencies outside D.C. be returned to the city and for the move of the FBI from its current building on Pennsylvania Avenue to a suburban site in Maryland of Virginia to be stopped.
"We're saying, 'We have have honored our part of the deal to surrender our rights... and now we want our rights restored, otherwise we're going to make you do your part of the deal, that's to keep all federal agencies headquartered in Washington, D.C.' That's the deal that was made," he said.
The lawsuit also argues that by denying D.C. statehood, the U.S. is violating international treaties and agreements like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "The United States is a Party to a number of treaties and other agreements that clearly and unequivocally establish an international obligation on the part of the signatories to uphold the principles of sovereignty and political standing," writes Barnes.
As a first step, Barnes says he will deliver a copy of the lawsuit to Speaker of the House John Boehner on Thursday, where he hopes to ask him to back a bill introduced by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton that would grant D.C. statehood. (The Senate recently held a hearing on a companion bill.) The House bill has over 100 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
"The courts can't give us statehood, only Congress can. But the courts can tell Congress, 'You gotta stop the FBI from moving out of here because you made an agreement and you have to honor the agreement.' We hope to use that as leverage," he said.
Barnes, who also served as chief of staff to former D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, is optimistic that the lawsuit can help move along a bill that so far faces tough odds on Capitol Hill.
"This lawsuit has legs," he said.
D.C. Statehood Lawsuit Complaint