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Secession chatter getting attention, but idea is implausible in the extreme
Nov 30, 2012 - By James Rosen, McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON -- In the three weeks since President Barack Obama's re-election victory, his most ardent foes -- nearly 1 million people from all 50 states -- have signed online petitions to take their opposition to the extreme: seceding from the United States.
They're doing it on the White House's "We the People" website, taking advantage of a pledge to review any petition that gains at least 25,000 signatures.
Texas was far ahead of the pack with 117,373 digital signatures on its petition by midday Monday.
"Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union," the petition states.
"To do so 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," it says.
Randy Dye, a North Carolina tea party member and retired trauma nurse from Pittsboro, started his state's petition, which had drawn more than 30,000 signatures, good for sixth-most among all states.
While helping victims of Hurricane Sandy in the New York City borough of Queens, Dye explained why he would like North Carolina to leave the union.
"States need to turn into countries where we keep our own money," Dye said in an interview.
"It would be a lot easier to control government at the state level than at the federal level," Dye said. "I believe that President Obama is probably a good man and a good daddy to his kids, but he's a socialist. I think we're headed we're heading toward a socialist nation, and I want nothing to do with that."
As of Monday afternoon, 11 would-be seceding states -- Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida and Ohio -- had reached the 25,000-signature threshold that the "We the People" website promises will gain an official Obama administration review. Nine of the 11 states voted against Obama in the Nov. 6 election, with only Florida and Ohio as pro-Obama outliers.
"Every petition that crosses the threshold is reviewed and receives a response," White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said. "As a rule, we don't comment on the substance of those responses until they're issued to the petitioners."
The would-be secessionists have looked for support to Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a 2012 Republican presidential candidate and longtime libertarian leader, who has long said states have the right to leave the union.
"It's very American to talk about secession," Paul said in an April 2009 YouTube video. "That's how we came into being -- 13 colonies seceded from the British and established a new country. So secession is very much of an American principle."
Some constitutional law scholars say that while it wouldn't be impossible for a state to secede, to do so legally would entail highly implausible -- more likely impossible -- steps such as gaining ratification of a constitutional amendment or passage of a law redrawing the nation's boundaries.
"It all boils down to whether the larger country is willing to accept a peaceful withdrawal," said Sanford Levinson, a law professor at the University of Texas-Austin.
"I think it is a fantasy, but given the history of the United States, secession is not necessarily a laughing matter," Levinson said. "The Constitution doesn't specify an answer one way or another. My view is that it's a close call" in terms of constitutionality -- but all but impossible as a practical matter.
Akhil Reed Amar, a Yale University law professor, said that while the Constitution doesn't directly address secession, Amar said, the founding document makes it clear in a half-dozen clauses that such a move is banned and would be tantamount to treason.
Amar said the most important provision, known as the Supremacy Clause in Article 6, makes clear the authority of the Constitution, along with federal laws and treaties, over "anything in the constitution or laws of any state."
"What the Constitution says repeatedly is once you're in (as a state), you're in," Amar said. "If people want to secede, they are allowed to leave, they just can't take the land and the water with them. There is a lawful way to secede -- it's called emigration. They can move to Canada."