Can a State Legally Secede from the United States?

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by: Matthew Andersen, 1L Contributor

In the wake of President Barack Obama’s re-election victory on Nov. 6, nearly 1 million Americans, from all 50 states, have signed petitions to secede from the United States of America.

The ironic part of signing petitions for secession is that it is all being done through the White House’s “We the People” website, which was created by the Obama Administration. Once a petition gains 25,000 signatures, the Administration has pledged to review the petition and file a formal response.

As of Monday evening, a petition has been filed from all 50 states. Texas has gained nearly 118,000 signatures, which is the most signatures of any secession petition, and the most signatures of any open petition on the website.  Currently 11 states, including Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, Ohio and Texas, have secession petitions that have reached the requisite number of signatures to gain an official review and response from the Obama Administration.

Now, for what you have all been waiting for, the legal analysis:  At the culmination of the Civil War, the United States Supreme Court decided Texas v. White, which started as a dispute over bonds issued in Texas during the war. Texas attempted to leave the United States when it supported the Confederacy, where it supplied troops to fight with the rebel forces. The United States Supreme Court established a new constitutional principle in Texas v. White, holding that states cannot unilaterally secede.

Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase stated: “When Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the state. The Act, which consummated her admission into the Union, was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final.”

If it doesn’t seem hard enough to secede, some constitutional scholars say that secession could be considered treason under the Articles of the Constitution. In an article for the Kansas City Star, Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, discussed the Supremacy Clause in Article 6 of the United States Constitution.

“What the Constitution says repeatedly is once you’re in (as a state), you’re in.  If people want to secede, they are allowed to leave; they just can’t take the land and the water with them. There is a lawful way to secede – it’s called emigration. They can move to Canada,” Amar wrote.

This is not the first time Americans have tried to secede from the United States, and it most likely will not be the last. One is left to wonder whether the publicity that this issue has received has a direct connection with the increasing number of social media users and American citizens’ increasing urge to express political angst on the Internet.

Share your thoughts on seceding from old Red, White and Blue with us at @JurisDuqLaw or on our Facebook page.


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