Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Secede (Without Really Trying)

Why can't the White House let you secede? Because these
guys say so, that's why. (The Chase court)
A petition calling on the White House to allow the State of Texas to secede and form its own government has reached the threshold required for an official White House response. The "We the People" site on the White House's official webpage allows anyone to create a petition. If any petition receives 25,000 signatures within 30 days the White House has committed to respond.

Several states have similar petitions on the site, although none of the others, as the Texas Tribune pointed out, has a governor who hinted at secessionist statements in public. “When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation,” Perry told a group of bloggers in 2009. “And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”

Beyond the funny gubernatorial gaffs and the rantings of on-line trolls what's the legal reality behind secession? If the White House wanted to grant the petitioners their wish (and let's face it, removing Texas' 38 electoral college votes from the process would pretty much guarantee the election of Democratic presidents for the foreseeable future) is there a process by which the Lone Star state could strike out on its own?


No there is not.

In fact, the State of Texas once argued stridently that such a process did not exist:

In 1869 the State of Texas found itself in a quandary. Confederate officials had sold $10 million in treasury bonds to finance the civil war and Texas wanted them back. On behalf of the state Governors Andrew Hamilton, Phillip Sheridan and Elisha Pease (there was some confusion about who was actually governor at the time, but that's another story) sued the individuals and banks who had bought the bonds. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

The defendants argued that the state legislature, which had voted to secede and authorized the sale of the bonds, were the duly elected representatives of the people of Texas and therefore legitimately empowered to act on their behalf, even if those actions constituted treason.

Texas' argument was that no process for secession existed and that, therefore, the acts of the Texas Legislature which pursued and supported secession, including selling the bonds, were invalid. Basically they argued that what the confederate officials actually did was steal property from the state and sell it. Texas was now simply trying to recover stolen property.

The court agreed with Texas. In his ruling, Chief Justice Salmon Chase (yes, he has the name of a fish, don't laugh, he's on the $10,000 bill) ruled that

"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. 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..."

So no, Texas had not actually seceded, but rather certain parties within Texas had stolen the property of the state, acted treasonously, and, in the process, brought ruin upon the people of Texas.

In his ruling Chase suggested that the other states could grant Texas the ability to leave the Union, but that the process the state had pursued in secession (an act of the legislature) was invalid. Which may suggest a path for anyone serious about secession.

Chase's ruling makes it clear that the power to grant another state to secede belongs "to the states" and not to the federal government (or the White House). So if the Texas secessionists are serious about their quixotic attempt to leave the United States, they would do better to focus their attention on the legislatures of the other 49 members of the Union. Something tells me that lawmakers in states like California, New York and Massachusetts would be more than happy to see us go.

Or maybe the petitioners aren't serious about secession. Maybe, and this is just a guess, they are far more interested in a sour-grapes-inspired attempt to embarrass a president who was recently re-elected despite their best efforts to defeat him.

No comments:

Post a Comment