Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2018

Abstract

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.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Constitutional law, International law, National self-determination, Statehood (American politics), Puerto Rico

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