Could Texas Really Secede if it Wanted To?

In less unique election years, little to no national attention is given to statewide party conventions, where state party leaders and activists meet to discuss various issues, put forth a platform, and conduct other official state party business. Earlier this month however, the Colorado GOP state convention made national headlines after Ted Cruz swept the delegate allocation that was determined at the convention – without a popular election.

More recently, some attention has shifted to the upcoming Republican state convention in Texas, which will take place May 12th-14th. While the allocation of delegates from Texas to the GOP national convention was determined in the state’s March 1st primary, the emerging controversy surrounding the convention is about a debate over a pro-Texas secession plank to the party platform.

Earlier this year, 270 county conventions took place across Texas, and at least 10 counties passed resolutions to adopt a pro-secession platform. Texas GOP party officials fear that this support and momentum will force them to hold an official vote at the state convention on whether to include a pro-secession plank in the state GOP platform.

While one-in-three Texans think that the state has the right to secede, a vast majority of those polled would chose to stay in the United States if they were voting on the issue. Activists submitted to the White House a petition for Texas secession with over 100,000 signatures in 2012, and they have recently tried other political means to advance their movement.

Pro-secession activists are inspired in part by Texas’ history and are aggrieved by what they see as misconduct by the federal government. Before 1836, Texas was a Mexican province, but seceded for various reasons, including a slavery ban in Mexico and geographical proximity to and important trade relations with the United States. After existing as the independent Republic of Texas for 9 years, Texas was ultimately admitted as a state in 1845, which precipitated the Mexican-American War.

Today, pro-secession activists lament various actions by the federal government that “meddle with the lives, liberty, and property of the people of Texas”. While secession is scoffed at by mainstream Texas politicians and by the GOP party establishment, Texas’ current suit against the Obama administration’s executive actions on immigration makes similar complaints about putative burdens that the federal government is foisting upon the state.

Of course, the debate over whether states can secede from the United States was officially put to an end by the Civil War. During his first Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln declared that “no state, upon its own mere notion, can lawfully get out of the Union…in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken”.

After the war, the Supreme Court endorsed Lincoln’s view on the constitutionality of secession. In 1868 Texas was a party to a case before the Court, Texas v. White, where the Court ruled that “when Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation.” The Court put to rest any 10th amendment claims that states retain the right to leave the Union as they please, as Chief Justice Salmon Chase wrote that the Constitution, “in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union.”

Despite this, pro-secession activists point to the Texas state constitution as a legal justification for secession, deny the legitimacy of the 1868 Supreme Court ruling, and draw inspiration from the Declaration of Independence.

Back in 2012, the National Constitution Center’s constitutional literacy adviser Lyle Denniston wrote for us about the Texas secession debate, and the possibility that Texas could leave the United States if it had permission from the other 49 states.

Dennistion said Texas v. White made voluntary secession with permission impractical without a constitutional amendment granting the government the power to let Texas go.

“In order to overrule Texas v. White by constitutional amendment, a secession proposal would have to modify the very Preamble of the Constitution, in which the nation’s people created ‘a more perfect Union,’ and would have to wipe out the guarantee in Article IV of a ‘republican form of government’ in each state,” he said.

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