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The US Statehood Process

How Congress Has Traditionally Proceeded

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Updated April 30, 2014
The process by which U.S. territories attain full statehood is, at best, an inexact art. While Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution empowers the U.S. Congress to grant statehood, the process for doing so is not specified.

The Constitution merely declares that new states cannot be created by merging or splitting existing states without the approval of both the U.S. Congress and the states' legislatures. Otherwise, Congress is given the authority to determine the conditions for statehood. "The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States…" -- U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 3, clause 2

The Typical Process
Historically, Congress has applied the following general procedure when granting territories statehood:
  • The territory holds a referendum vote to determine the people's desire for or against statehood.

  • Should a majority vote to seek statehood, the territory petitions the U.S. Congress for statehood.

  • The territory, if it has not already done so, is required to adopt a form of government and constitution that are in compliance with the U.S. Constitution.

  • The U.S. Congress - both House and Senate - pass, by a simple majority vote, a joint resolution accepting the territory as a state.

  • The President of the United States signs the joint resolution and the territory is acknowledged as a U.S. state.
While some territories have significantly delayed petitioning for statehood, including Alaska (92 years) and Oklahoma (104 years), no valid petition for statehood has ever been denied by the U.S. Congress.

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