Can a State Really Succeed in Secession?

Only one day after Scottish voters rejected an “independence referendum” and chose to remain a part of the United Kingdom, Reuteris reporting that 25% of Americans support considering state secession from the United States of America.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted between August 23 and September 16, found that “23.9 percent of Americans…said they strongly supported or tended to support the idea of their state breaking away, while 53.3 percent of the 8,952 respondents strongly opposed or tended to oppose the notion.” In essence, 1 in 4 Americans believe their own state would be better off if it broke away from the union of states and formed its own country.

The poll further determined that it did not much matter what political party a person was a member of or what part of the country they hailed from – although Republicans and those from Southwest were slightly more in favor of secession. It appears that most Americans are considering secession in light of the continuous stalemates in Washington and Congress’ inability to get anything done, as well as the Obama Administration’s handling of Health Care Reform and the horrors of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

What exactly is secession and has it ever happened in this country before? Can a U.S state ever truly secede and leave the union of states?

Can a State Really Succeed in Secession?

Secession and its History in the United States

Secession is the act of withdrawing from a formal alliance. For example, Scottish citizens voted in order to decide whether or not the country would formally withdraw its allegiance to the United Kingdom and operate independently. In the context of a U.S state, Texas for example, could decide to officially leave the union of states and operate on its own as a separate entity.

The United States of America was founded by secession in 1776. The Declaration of Independence was this country’s formal withdrawal from Great Britain’s rule. The document established this country as an independent and separate nation operating under its own law.

Despite our country’s founding upon an act of secession, no state has tried to secede from the union of states since the 1860s. On December 20,1860, South Carolina formally seceded from the U.S. Several other Southern states followed suit, creating the Confederacy – these acts of secession effectively beginning the Civil War that ultimately led to the end of slavery this country.

Interestingly, support for state secession continues today. Citizens from several states have signed petitions asking for a statewide vote on their state’s secession from the United States.  Most notable is the state of Texas– that state’s secession petition has garnered over 100,000 signatures and even a formal response from the White House.

Legality of State Secession

The most simple answer to the question of whether or not a state could actually succeed in withdrawing from the United State of America is no. Article IV, Section 3 of the United State Constitution offers only a process to enter the union of states and for current states to divide. Nowhere in the Constitution do the framers provide for a method to leave the union. Since there is no legal basis for a state’s secession, a state would only be able to attempt secession by force – in other words, war.

In 2006, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia even commented on the question of whether a state had the right to secede; he wrote then, “I cannot imagine that such a question could ever reach the Supreme Court. To begin with, the answer is clear. If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede. (Hence, in the Pledge of Allegiance, “one Nation, indivisible.”)

At Brownstone Law, our appellate attorneys are well versed in federal law and experienced in the federal appellate process. If you, or someone you know needs help with an appellate case, contact us today.

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