Sixty years ago in 1959, Hawaii and Alaska were admitted to the republic of the United States. There are no fixed criteria in the Constitution for determining either qualities or quantities to constitute admission to the union. The founding document [Art. IV, Sec. 3, cl. 1] provides:
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.
Pursuant to the Constitution [Art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 9], the District of Columbia is not a state but a federal district and, in 1961, under the 23rd Amendment, was granted three electors to the Electoral College as if it were a state, along with the enfranchisement of its citizens to vote for those electors. The jurisdiction has approximately 702,000 residents—a figure greater than the population of either Vermont or Wyoming—represented by a delegate since 1971. During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate John Kasich admitted in a radio interview with The Washington Post that the sole reason to oppose statehood was the likelihood of two additional Democratic senators.
Puerto Rico, initially considered a territory of the United States acquired as a result of the Spanish-American War in 1898, is officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (since 1952), represented in the Congress by a single Resident Commissioner (equivalent to DC’s delegate). The island nation boasts some 3.5 million residents who were granted US citizenship in 1917 but are not enfranchised to vote in US presidential elections, meaning it has no Electoral College electors.
By overwhelming majorities, both DC and Puerto Rico have voted to become states of the Union, and national polls on the mainland reflect a similar substantial sentiment for that objective. On January 4, 2019, Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s delegate, introduced House Resolution 51 along with 151 cosponsors to make the district a state. Opposition to statehood has mainly been from Republicans, who—as predicted by Governor Kasich— reportedly fear the addition of two Democratic senators in Congress.
In June 2017, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner introduced legislation into Congress authorizing a commission to identify issues to be resolved for the island nation to become a state by 2021. That measure attracted 34 bipartisan cosponsors. Following his spat with the Mayor of San Juan during the Hurricane Maria disaster, President Trump (jokingly?) in a radio interview stated that he would support statehood if the island’s leaders could guarantee two Republican senators.
Unlike the continuing turmoil at our nation’s southern border, there are no urgent reasons to create two new states other than simple equity for the residents of the two jurisdictions. Republican fears of increasing the number of Democratic senators, while real to the political party, are irrelevant as the votes of those residents indicate, as well as the opinion of mainlanders expressed in numerous polls. Thus, despite the existence of some bipartisan support for legislation to advance the interests of DC and Puerto Rico, the reality is that passage would meet resistance similar to that in the Merrick Garland matter.
Unfortunately, it would seem, we are still at a political juncture wherein partisan opposition to outcomes that comport with the ideals of the founding of our union outweigh, in practical terms, those principles.