Thursday, November 15, 2012

Secession a hot topic in the wake of election

“It’s not you, it’s us.”

“We’ve grown apart. We just don’t see things the same way anymore. You’re constant spending has driven us deep into debt. You constantly nag us and tell us what to do. To you, a compromise means that we totally give in and do it your way. We can’t take it anymore. We think it’s time to break up.”
These words might be spoken by an unhappy spouse, but they also reflect unhappiness with the current state of the union. Since the reelection of Barack Obama, secession has once again become a hot topic. The election results show that the United States is more divided than at almost any point in our history (with the notable exception of the War of Secession). While the electoral vote wasn’t close, the popular vote in 2012 was within three percent, just as both of George W. Bush’s elections were very close.

On the White House petition website, the most popular petition is a request that President Obama and the federal government allow Texas to secede from the union. The petition, posted on November 9, has 106,491 signatures as of the morning of November 15. This is almost twice as many signers as the second most popular petition, a request to recount the election due to the claim that in one Ohio county President Obama received 8,000 more voters than there were eligible voters.

There are other petitions for secession on the White House site as well, although none are as popular as the Texas one. Petitioners in Alaska, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Hawaii, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia are also seeking the right to form their own countries. There is also a petition seeking to allow the city of Atlanta to secede from Georgia, but remain part of the United States. The Georgia petition, with more than 29,000 signatures, is one of the most popular petitions on the site. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that petitions for secession have been filed from all 50 states.

The Texas petition, which specifies that it favors peaceful secession, cites “economic difficulties stemming from the federal government's neglect to reform domestic and foreign spending” and “blatant abuses of their rights” as reasons for secession. The petition’s creator, Micah H. of Arlington, Tx., believes that secession would “protect its citizens' standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government.” Many of the complaints against the current federal government could be taken from the list of grievances in the Declaration of Independence.

According to the standards set forth on the site, “if a petition meets the signature threshold, it will be reviewed by the Administration and we will issue a response.” The Texas petition has met the threshold of 25,000 signers. Several other petitions, including the Georgia request, have also met the threshold.

Strangely enough, there is bipartisan support for secession. The modern movement for secession first appeared in the wake of George W. Bush’s reelection. In an article almost eight years ago to the day in Salon, Lawrence O’Donnell, a former aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and current MSNBC host, predicted “a serious discussion of secession over the next 20 years” from the left because “the segment of the country that pays for the federal government is now being governed by the people who don’t pay for the federal government.” The article cited access to abortion, gay marriage, and other state’s rights issues as reasons liberals might want to secede.

But is secession legal? Didn’t the Civil War determine that the union was insoluble?

One argument is that the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment protects the right to secede. The amendment says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Since the Constitution does not prohibit secession, it is a reserved right of the states in this view. There is no federal law against secession.

In 1868, the Supreme Court addressed the legality of secession in Texas v. White. In that case, the Court ruled, “The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.” In the Court’s view, since a state cannot join the union unilaterally, it also cannot secede unilaterally except by revolution.

Writing on in 2004, Michael Dorf speculated on what might constitute “consent of the States” since the issue is not addressed in the Constitution or the Supreme Court decision. Dorf notes that approving secession is not listed among the enumerated powers of Congress; therefore it would likely require a constitutional amendment for a state to secede. The Constitution could be amended to allow states to secede unilaterally as well as with federal approval.
What might the United States look like after secession? If electoral maps are any indication, most of the American heartland might form a new country, while New England south through Virginia or Maryland, the Great Lakes states and the Pacific coast states remained. Parts of Florida, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa might elect to leave their states to join the new country as well.

Secession is not likely in the near future. It is a far different matter to vote for a presidential candidate than to vote to leave the union. A Rasmussen poll from June showed that 24 percent of Americans believe in the right to secession. It is likely that not all Americans who believe in a right to secede would be in favor of secession.

Nevertheless, the movement may gain momentum if President Obama and the Democrats continue to expand government and curtail rights against the will of the people. A Rasmussen poll taken on Nov. 6 shows that Americans still favor repeal of Obamacare by a margin of 50-44 percent. The number favoring repeal has never been below 50 percent. According to Reuters, the day after the election the Obama Administration reopened talks on a controversial United Nations treaty that could threaten American Second Amendment rights. Many Americans feel that freedom of religion is under assault by the Obama Administration

The erosion of American freedoms, the expansion of federal power, and the failure of the courts to rein in the government may eventually combine with economic problems resulting from Democratic policies to convince a majority of Americans that an amicable divorce is the only answer to America’s national divide. While the future is not clear, it is certain that President Obama, who promised healing for America, has left the nation more divided than at any time in recent memory.

Originally published on

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