Could Puerto Rico become part of a US state? I realise it has long been proposed as a 51st state, but that seems unlikely. So how about this alternative?

2 Answers 2



This would require the consent of Congress and the accepting U.S. state, but Puerto Rico's consent would not be constitutionally required (although it would be prudent to obtain and probably would be obtained as a matter of custom and fairness).

New York States has floated the possibility of annexing Puerto Rico since it is the single most concentrated destination of Puerto Rican migration to the mainland historically and has a large and politically well organized Puerto Rican community and would favor the expansion of Democratic political party power that this annexation would entail.

Contiguity is less of a concern for Puerto Rico since it is an island in any case.

Florida would be another natural candidate, but its conservative/purple political makeup would probably oppose such an annexation even though geographically it would be a more natural annexing state.

In a similar vein, there have been proposals to annex all of the District of Columbia except the federal mall to Maryland subject to the same formal requirements.

Either annexation would be a compromise. It would give these territories full statehood status and full representation in the U.S. House but would deny Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, respective, their own two seats in the U.S. Senate which would favor Democrats more than mere annexation would.

  • 1
    Why would federal consent be required? The constitution does not say anything about states acquiring territory from a source that isn't part of another state.
    – phoog
    Nov 23, 2017 at 15:56
  • U.S. Constitution Art IV, Sec 3, Cl 1 and also Art I, Section 8 which vests authority over federal property together with the necessary and proper clause. The fact that the exact language is not spelled out doesn't mean that one can't resolve the issue on the principle set forth. The 10th Amendment is meaningless and 10th Amendment arguments almost always lose. See also the Insular cases that place federal territories in the exclusive control of Congress. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insular_Cases The express parts of the constitution embody a broader theory of federalism.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 27, 2017 at 2:42
  • It has always been clear to me that the purpose of the article 4 language is to prohibit the reduction of a state's territory without that state's consent.
    – phoog
    Nov 27, 2017 at 3:24
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    If a territory is "owned" by the federal government as in the case of PR, why should a state be able to steal it from the federal government unilaterally, without Congress involved. And, changing the territory of a sovereign nation (if a state tried to annex land that was not a part of the U.S., e.g., if California tried to annex Hawaii prior to Hawaii becoming a U.S. territory() is an inherent power of a national government and one of many that SCOTUS has recognized.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 27, 2017 at 3:30

Pursuant to the New States Clause of the Constitution (Art IV, Sec 3, Cl 1),

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

There are two precedents: Nevada (1866 and 1867) and Missouri, states which expanded their territory by absorbing part of an adjacent territory. The expansion of Nevada was enacted by Congress on 5 May 1866, coming in two parts. A large strip of Utah Territory was added

as provided for and consented to in the constitution of the State of Nevada, all that territory and tract of land adjoining the present eastern boundary of the State of Nevada, and lying between the thirty-seventh and the forty-second degrees of north latitude and west of the thirty-seventh degree of longitude west of Washington, is hereby added to and made a part of the State of Ne vada.

The southern chunk that is now Clark county was added after it was approved by the Nevada legislature. This thing is, it still requires congressional approval.

  • The constitutional clause you quote does not seem to apply because the source of the new territory is not another state.
    – phoog
    Nov 23, 2017 at 15:55
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    Are you saying that there is no constitutional provision for admitting new states, or that a new state would have to be formed from a territory made out of another state? This is what the constitution says about the matter – obviously the procedure is not spelled out in minute detail.
    – user6726
    Nov 23, 2017 at 16:13
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    We're not talking about new states, we're talking about expanding an existing state when the additional territory is not taken from an existing state. The constitution only addresses the case where states are losing territory, which cannot be done without the state's consent as well as that of the federal government.
    – phoog
    Nov 23, 2017 at 18:52
  • Essentially adding territory to an existing state is forming a new state, and the Insular Cases, among others, firmly establish that federal territory is under the exclusive control of Congress. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insular_Cases
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 27, 2017 at 2:44
  • @ohwilleke the fact that PR would cease to be federal territory does seem to imply that congressional consent would be needed, but I do not buy the argument that expanding a state's territory amounts to forming a new state.
    – phoog
    Nov 27, 2017 at 3:29

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