Could State Secession Happen Today?
Secession of the states has been a recurring issue, not just in American politics, but in international politics as well. Recently, we witnessed the secession of the UK from the EU in what was called the #Brexit. Prior to that, there was a failed (but totally legal) secession attempt of Scotland from the UK. There has been talk of secession movements in Spain, Italy and Canada. Secession is part of Western politics, and it is a bulwark of democracy, the right for people to determine their own destiny by democratic, and/or representational government. The United States, itself, was founded on secession from the British Empire in 1776.
That being said, the US has a schizophrenic relationship with secession. On the one hand, the United States was founded on secession, and the United States has encouraged secession in various places across the globe. On the other hand, the United States fought a bloody civil war to prevent the secession of its own states during the 1860s. Of course, opponents of secession will say that this war was justified because the confederacy was unjust due to slavery. I suppose we could play off the civil war as some holy crusade against slavery, and many people do. It’s been going on since the abolitionist movement decided to back Lincoln for reelection. That, however, is not the point of this essay. Many of the same people, who oppose this historical secession of the southern states, would simultaneously approve the secession of California (or any Left-wing state) for other political reasons. What I’m talking about here is secession itself, not the reasons behind it, which at this point in the conversation are somewhat irrelevant.
The American Civil War, officially called the “War of the Rebellion,” was fought principally over the issue of secession, and whether or not a state (or states) could unilaterally secede from the United States. The outcome of the war determined the answer was “no.” States cannot do this. Legally speaking then, the United States is considered a contractual Union, sort of like a family, wherein states may only enter upon agreement of both the state and the Union together, and theoretically, they likewise cannot sever political ties, unless there is agreement between the state and the Union together. So that’s that. States cannot unilaterally secede — period — unless they’re willing to physically fight for their freedom, and win in a war that would likely be unwinnable. There is, however, another way…
The Long Route
While unilateral secession is legally impossible now, multilateral secession isn’t. As I said above, states enter the United States by agreement between the state and the Union. So likewise, they could theoretically secede by agreement between the state and the Union. How might something like this happen? I’ll propose a hypothetical situation below…
Hypothetical Theory of Secession by Multilateral Agreement…
- November 3, 2020 — Donald J. Trump is reelected as President and the Republicans retake the House of Representatives as well as keep the Senate.
- November 4, 2020 — Riots ensue across major cities in the United States which are run by Democrat mayors and city councils.
- December 4, 2020 — Nearly every major city in California is in ruins after a month of rioting. The national guard is now engaging rioters in the streets.
- December 25, 2020 (Christmas) — While most riots have been put down, intermittent violent resurgences occur along the coast, crime has reached an all-time high, and demonstrators are calling for secession of California from the United States. The outrage and the violence are not going away.
- January 1, 2021 — Governor Newsom calls an emergency session of the state legislature to consider a permanent solution to the rioting and political impasse.
- January 5, 2021 — The California State Legislature recommends a statewide referendum asking the voters if the State of California shall secede from the Union.
- April 5, 2021 — A special referendum election is held asking the voters a simple question: “Shall the State of California secede from the United States of America.”
- April 8, 2021 — By an clear majority of 56%, and after three recounts, the people of California have democratically spoken their desire to secede from the Union.
- April 10, 2021 — The California State Legislature draws up articles of secession, approves them, and sends them to Governor Newsom for his signature.
- April 11, 2021 — Governor Newsom signs the articles of secession, calling President Trump to ask for assistance with this political problem.
- April 12, 2021 — President Trump calls an emergency joint session of the US Congress to determine the course of action.
- April 16, 2021 — President Trump addresses the Congress in an emergency session. He explains that current federal law does not permit secession and he will be forced to retain the State of California by force and bloodshed (if necessary), against the democratic will of the people in California, if the Congress does not act immediately, proposing a constitutional amendment allowing the state of California to secede. At this point the matter is left up to Congress, whether they will approve the amendment for ratification by the states, or do nothing, resulting in America’s Second Civil War. Congress begins a long debate process.
- May 1, 2021 — Congress approves a proposed constitutional amendment, that would allow the State of California to legally secede upon further negotiations over federal debt responsibility, the status of America’s military installations, and the security of California’s southern border with Mexico. The states will decide the matter upon ratification of the proposed amendment. If the states fail to ratify the amendment by January 1, 2022, Congress authorizes the president to act militarily.
- October 25, 2021 — Thirty–eight of the fifty states (including California) have ratified the amendment allowing California to secede upon further negotiations over debt, defense and border security.
- November 1, 2021 — A joint executive and congressional negotiation team is formed to meet with representatives of the new ‘Republic of California’ to negotiate a peaceful and orderly separation of California from the United States of America. Property values in California plummet as many Californians flee the state. Simultaneously, many left-wing Democrats move to the state from other parts of the Union.
- April 11, 2022 — Californians celebrate their first independence day.
The above is a hypothetical situation of course, and should not be taken too seriously. The point was to outline one possible way a multilateral state secession could occur. It’s sort of like a “family intervention,” wherein ultimately, a super-majority of states would decide whether one could leave or not. This may seem unfair, and it most certainly would depend on the cool heads of the politicians involved, namely the governor of the state wanting to secede, the President of the United States, and the majority of the US Congress. But if everyone could remain calm and cool-headed enough to do what needs to be done, a state secession could theoretically happen in a peaceful and orderly way. In the end, however, a super-majority of states would have the final say. Either they would allow it, or they wouldn’t. Like I said, it’s a “family intervention.” By ratifying the amendment, they allow the secession to happen, and authorize the federal government to negotiate the deal. By failing to ratify the amendment, they are essentially saying “no,” and authorizing the federal government to take necessary legal, economic and military action to stop it.
The Short Route
Another possibility would be for enough states to ratify an Article V: Convention of States. Once the convention is convened, a “general-secession amendment” could be proposed to allow for unilateral secession of a state, any state, using a popular vote in that state. However, any secession that follows technically wouldn’t be unilateral, as the amendment itself (once ratified) would make it multilateral, having obtained de facto permission from the other states in advance, through the amendment.
The moral to this story is this. Like it or lump it, the United States of America is a family, in all its dysfunctional glory. It pays for governors and state legislators to be nice to each other, and not organize boycotts or sanctions against other states. Because you never know. One of these days one may be in desperate need of the others to bail them out of a political mess that could result in bloodshed and criminal penalties for all politicians involved.
As an American, I believe in the right of secession. Why? Because I’m an American! This nation was founded on secession! At the same time, I think the lessons of the Civil War are crystal clear. No state can unilaterally try to leave the Union without severe consequences. It has to be a family decision.