Do New States Have to Be Ratified?

A comment at our Facebook page showed us another misconception about statehood for Puerto Rico. The commenter believed that a new state would have to be ratified by the majority of the existing states. That is, 26 states would have to agree before a new state could be admitted to the Union.

This is not true.

The New States Clause of the constitution says that existing states must agree to any new states made from land that is already part of their state. An example of this would be West Virginia, which separated from Virginia in 1863. Virginia had to agree to that.

Another example would be the proposal to divide California into three states, which will be on the ballot in California this year. No matter what the voters say, the state government would have to agree, according to the U.S. Constitution.

But Puerto Rico is not part of any other state. It is a territory, like most of the pieces of land which have become states over the centuries.

Ratification

States have to ratify amendments to the Constitution. In fact, three quarters of the states must ratify an amendment before it becomes part of the Constitution. That’s 38 states. The Equal Rights Amendment, which says that women are equal to men under the law, has been ratified by 37 states so far. That’s not enough to make it law.

But states don’t have to ratify the admission of a new state. Congress has absolute power over territories belonging to the United States, and Congress can admit a new state whenever it pleases. Existing states don’t have to agree.

Other misconceptions

Here are some other things people believe about statehood for Puerto Rico:

  • States have to be admitted in pairs. This is a custom, not a rule. It dates back to the days when Congress was trying to keep equal numbers of states that allowed slavery and states that outlawed slavery. This sounds like a strange idea now, and in fact there is no rule requiring states to be admitted in pairs.
  • Puerto Rico has to speak English before becoming a state. Some of the statehood bills for Puerto Rico have included a requirement that English be taught in schools in Puerto Rico. Congress can make conditions for statehood. For example, a number of territories had to change their borders or make their laws match the laws of the United States before they could become states. However, this is up to Congress. There is no law requiring any state to speak English in the U.S., and we have no national language.
  • Puerto Rico as a state would be too expensive for the United States. Puerto Rico already belongs to the United States, and the U.S. is already responsible for Puerto Rico. Statehood will require Congress to treat Puerto Rico equally with the other states, but it will not add new responsibilities to the federal government.
  • Statehood requires all residents of Puerto Rico to agree that they want statehood. As Pedro Pierlusi said, that’s not how democracy works. What’s more, a territory can be admitted as a state without ever voting on the question — Alabama is an example of that. Anti-statehood groups have had a fair degree of success at discrediting the last two referenda, in which the majority of voters chose statehood. This trick should not delay statehood.

Read more about the false things people believe about statehood.

The truth is, the United States doesn’t add states very often, so most of us don’t know much about how the process works or what the laws are. Plenty of Americans also don’t know much about Puerto Rico and its relationship to the United States. This ignorance can slow the process of statehood. Please share this post and this website with your friends and family. Help people get more informed, and statehood for Puerto Rico will come sooner.

One Comment

Howard Hills

Actually, Virginia was in a state of rebellion at the time West Virginia became a state. In one of the most controversial decisions of his presidency, and that is saying something, Lincoln recognized the pro-union convention in Wheeling as the de facto legislature of and recognized its agreement to form a new sate separate from Virginia. The state government in Richmond was not recognized as constitutionally legitimate at the time. The irony was that Lincoln was fighting a war against secession but allowed West Virginia in a sense to secede form Virginia!

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