A Conservative Case for Puerto Rican Statehood

Kyle Sammin, National Review, March 26, 2019

Democrats are in charge of the House of Representatives once again, and so they have placed a bill on the House floor that would admit the District of Columbia to the Union as a state. The political motivations are clear. The new state {snip} would be reliably Democratic, adding two senators and one representative to the party’s totals.

There are plenty of reasons to oppose this precise solution, but the issue of taxpaying Americans’ not having a representative voice in Congress is not easily dismissed. And if Congress wants to address that issue, Puerto Rico, not the District of Columbia, should become our 51st state.

Republicans have reason to support such a move along with Democrats. The GOP party platform has favored Puerto Rican statehood for decades, but Republicans have remained wary of acting on the issue, convinced that Puerto Rico, like D.C., would be a reliably blue state. That’s not exactly true. Puerto Rico had a Republican-affiliated governor as recently as 2013, and its current nonvoting delegate to Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón, is a Republican. If Puerto Rico became a state, it is reasonable to believe that González-Colón or another Republican would take one of the island’s two seats in the Senate.

{snip} Puerto Rico differs in significant ways from the rest of the United States, but this should be seen as an asset, not a liability. Admitting it to the union would increase diversity among the states, forcing us to question whether one-size-fits-all federal laws are the best way to govern an increasingly varied people.

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These differences may have accounted, along with then-prevailing racial prejudices, for the ambiguous status of Puerto Rico within the American nation. In 1917, Congress extended American citizenship to anyone born on the island after 1898. In doing so, it recognized that the island was a permanent part of America, while also conveniently allowing draft-age men there to be conscripted as the nation entered the First World War.

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That leaves the exact legal status of Puerto Rico in limbo, but the island and its residents are without a doubt a part of America. Puerto Ricans are Americans. They serve in our military and contribute to our nation. Yet they lack the voting rights that Americans in the 50 states take for granted. Statehood would rectify that problem, integrating Puerto Rico more closely into the nation of which it is already a part.

{snip} What is often unsaid is that making Puerto Rico the 51st state would also be good for the rest of America in one specific way: It would remind us why we are a federal republic.

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To see how federalism would look if Puerto Rico were admitted as a state, we need only examine our neighbor to the north, Canada.

In most respects, Canadians are just like Americans: a majority-English-speaking, majority-Protestant people living in a collection of former British colonies. The exception to the rule is Quebec. {snip} And while the differences between Catholic and Protestant are less important to most people nowadays, the differences between French- and English-speaking Canadians remain and have helped preserve the federal nature of Canada’s union when other centralizing, progressive trends in Canadian politics might have destroyed it.

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A more diverse conglomeration of states would likely lead to similar demands for more local autonomy, which could not come at a better time. The United States government has grown too big and centralized to be controlled by a single executive. Greater variation in geography, size, and culture among the states would force us to appreciate anew the need for federalism and might even lead to a more clearly defined division of powers between the different sovereignties, as found in Part VI of Canada’s 1867 constitution.

{snip} Congress should admit Puerto Rico as a state, and Americans as a whole should embrace the differences within our nation and the federal structure that allows them to coexist in peace.

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