On June 11, 2017, Puerto Rico held a referendum on its legal status. Although turnout was low, 97% of ballots favored statehood, rather than independence or the status quo. The federal government, however, has financial and political reasons to resist this preference: Puerto Rico would bring with it a massive, unpayable debt, and the potential to swing the current balance of power in Congress. That then raises the two questions of whether Congress could decide expel Puerto Rico (give it “independence”) or is legally required to give it statehood (“accession”).
The answers are not obvious. International law, we argue, suggests that the people of Puerto Rico have a legal right to determine their own status vis-à-vis the mainland. Whether domestic law protects the same right of self determination is a more difficult question.
Joseph Blocher & Mitu Gulati, Puerto Rico and the Right of Accession, Yale Journal of International Law (forthcoming 2018)
Library of Congress Subject Headings
Constitutional law, International law, National self-determination, Statehood (American politics), Puerto Rico