How California Can Legally Secede from the Union

As we travel up and down California into coastal and inland communities alike, people show us tremendous support for the cause of California independence from the United States. Admittedly, there are those who just as passionately reject our vision for California's future and wish to remain in the Union. One thing both these sides have in common is the notion that a state cannot legally secede from the Union and therefore the campaign is "the ultimate pipe dream" in the eyes of our supporters, and a "waste of time" for our critics. Although the path to seceding from the Union is a long and difficult journey, there are multiple legal paths for this campaign to succeed. 

In 1869, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. White that states cannot unilaterally secede from the Union, not that it could not be done altogether. Indeed, there is no specific ban on state secession in the U.S. Constitution, even though that document does discuss states in Article IV:

"New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress." 

Clearly missing from that paragraph is something to the effect of, "nor shall any State be expelled, or be permitted to withdraw from this Union." What we have instead is the intent of the founders to allow Congress to handle the matters of statehood which explains why in Texas v. White the Supreme Court put the matter of state secession into their hands. 

"When Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. 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."

Yes California highlights this last part because it is often left out of the discussion. Indeed, California cannot unilaterally declare itself independent of the United States even though the original 13 colonies unilaterally declared their independence from England. Instead, this highlighted clause outlines several paths to legal and peaceful secession but before we get to that, it will be necessary for Californians to weigh in on the matter, which is what Yes California's 2020 independence referendum is about. If there is no mandate from the people to secede, there is no reason for us to embark on this long and difficult legal journey to achieve that goal. So, an independence referendum on the ballot goes first. 

Now let's say that the independence referendum succeeds and a clear majority of Californians declare their support for establishing the country of California independent of the United States. In that case, the journey begins.

  1. A member of the California federal delegation to Washington would propose an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing the State of California to withdraw from the Union. The Amendment would have to be approved by 2/3 of the House of Representatives and 2/3 of the Senate. If the Amendment passed it would be sent to the fifty state legislatures to be considered (to satisfy the "consent of the states" requirement in Texas v. White). It would need to be accepted by at least 38 of the 50 state legislatures to be adopted. 

  2. California could call for a convention of the states (which is currently being organized to tackle other constitutional amendments as we speak) and the Amendment granting California its independence would have to be approved by 2/3 of the delegates to this convention. If it passed, the Amendment would be sent to the fifty state legislatures to be considered and 38 of the 50 states would have to approve the measure in order for it to be adopted. 

These are the two possible paths for California's legal secession from the Union and Yes California is dedicated to pursuing one or both of them in order to achieve the goal of establishing the country of California. Granted, the process of getting a constitutional amendment passed and ratified is a difficult and long one but that is why our campaign has started now. We need to educate Californians and Americans alike on why California independence will not only be for the benefit of the people of California, but just as importantly, that it will be for the benefit of this whole country. 

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