Short Take: The New State of Confusion

At Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene discusses whether San Bernardino County, next to Los Angeles County and with 2 million residents, can decide to secede.

Can they do that? Why, yes, they can, but only with permission of the state from which they’re seceding as well as of the federal government. Article IV, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution provides,

[N]o 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.

The provision allowing such actions with the states’ and federal government’s consent appears to apply to both the “erected within” clause and the “formed by the Junction” clause, and indeed this is what happened when Kentucky seceded from Virginia in 1792 and Maine seceded from Massachusetts in 1820.

Eugene makes an assumption that might be unwarranted. Do they want anyone’s approval? Are they asking anything of California or the United States, or are they just deciding whether to fly solo and, short of an armed invasion to force them to remain a portion of a state with which they no longer care to belong or a nation to which they are no longer devoted, really don’t give a damn whether it’s good with them or not.

Will they get two senators? Not without the federal government’s permission and blessing. Then again, if they go independent, they won’t have to send tax money to Washington either. Will DC put up with such insolence? The optics of the military invading San Berdoo could make for an interesting Netflix docudrama, but could turn ugly.

Of course, this all seems rather silly in real life, but consider that we are a nation of many governments, state and local, who at one point in our history made the decision to seek membership in the entity of the United States. By doing so, we assumed certain obligations as well as benefits, and accepted the rules as they were and would be going forward when decided in the method agreed upon.

An awful lot of folks these days fail to connect up the voluntariness of this association. They have their ideas of right and wrong, and are so certain of their correctness that they are prepared to ram it down the throat of anyone who thinks differently. More to the point, they want laws to do their dirty work, whether to force people to do what they don’t want to do or prevent them from doing what they do.

There’s a lot of cheap talk about a civil war, which involves going to war, a fevered dream that swiftly falls apart when the first person gets shot. But walk away? Take a vote and decide that a unit of government, a group of people who have joined together to run their little slice of heaven, has decided they no longer like the way the rest of the nation is going and decide to put up signs at their border that says “The Sovereign Nation of San Berdoo.” What are you gonna do about it?

22 thoughts on “Short Take: The New State of Confusion

  1. Leonard James Akaar

    There’s going to be a lot of jockeying over who gets Fort Irwin and 29 Palms, The Sovereign Nation of San Berdoo, or the USA.

    We need to establish the high ground early and take San Gorgonio.

    1. Fubar

      If our host will permit, from Harry Partch, a generation before Frank Zappa, these inscriptions by people passing through San Bernardino County:

  2. Quinn Martindale

    In the unlikely event that San Bernardino tried to do this unilaterally, I suspect it would look like Catalonia’s failed attempt – the state would block any polling sites for the referendum and arrest the county board of supervisors. Counties aren’t even sovereign governments that made a decision to join the US anyway – they’re just administrative divisions of the state.

  3. Lee

    As goes San Bernardino, so goes Texas. Five is better than one, right?

    Sugar Land,
    Future State of Gulfland

  4. L. Phillips

    The idea appears as likely as me becoming an international tennis star but is fun to speculate about. If by some strange twist of law and fate The Great State of San Berdoo should come into existence there are large chunks of Nevada, Arizona, Northern California, Oregon and Washington that would stand in whatever line is necessary to file their paperwork. The antics of all those new rural based Congress-critters would be a delight. At least to me.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Is there a mechanism for expulsion as well as annexation and secession? The idea of making California or at least the SF-LA megalopolis a territory is very appealing. The State of Jefferson and joining Idaho are big deals in Oregon, although I’m not sure whether the Portlanders would say good riddance or demand to maintain control of the hinterlands. They seem to hate the dry side but Leftists love imposing their will

  6. PK

    Talk of civil war might be cheap, but an attempted secession should be met with force. There’s no take backs except on specific terms. Don’t follow them at your peril, upstart California County. I’d call for arrests all the way up to invasion if necessary to enforce the rule of law. I don’t really care about optics or the potential for the situation to turn ugly. It’s ugly enough that they would contemplate something so stupid. The ultimatum is surrender entirely, or else.

    It’s silly right up to the point they actually try it. Hopefully this stays in the realm of fiction and doesn’t become real in any sense. That it’s fucking stupid sadly isn’t enough to guarantee they won’t try it, so violence it might have to be. Such is life in a federal system.

    1. Grant

      This is not civil war. They’re trying to secede from California and make their own state to get more state and Federal funding, because they feel they’re being taxed by California and not getting that money spent back on them.

      From the article linked at Volokh:

      According to county spokesman David Wert, a finance team conducted a per-capita comparison of federal and state revenue received by California counties based on data from the state controller. The data show San Bernardino County ranks 36th out of 56 counties for per-capita revenue received from the state and federal governments, Wert said.
      “If the worst thing that comes out of this is a study that will be ammunition for our state representatives to fight for more money for us” that would be acceptable, said board Chairman Curt Hagman.

      1. Rengit

        I suppose the argument is that, if you’re trying to secede from a state and you do not have the consent of both that state and the federal government, then you’re violating the U.S. Constitution (and also probably the state constitution), and thus are axiomatically declaring secession from the United States vis a vis your unconstitutional attempt to secede from the state.

        It’s an intelligible argument, but I agree that it’s not on the same wavelength as, for example, the Southern states declaring independence from the United States to establish the Confederacy. After all, states don’t have armies to forcibly prevent a secession from their territory the way the federal government does, and the idea of a “civil war” within one state is silly.

      2. Richard Parker

        I just passed through hours of San Berdo south to north. If you want to really punish them, let them go.

      3. PK

        You been hurt, and you’re all cried out, you say
        You walk down the street pushing people outta your way
        You packed your bags and all alone you wanna ride
        You don’t want nothing, don’t need no one by your side
        You’re walking tough, baby, but you’re walking blind
        To the ties that bind

        That’s Bruce Springsteen, “The Ties that Bind”. I don’t have permission for vids, so that’s the best I could do. Enjoy.

      4. j a higginbotham

        Thanks for the clarification.
        So the possible secession is legal not violent, from the state not the union, and not really that serious a proposal. And based on various indicators, they may have a valid point about funding.

  7. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

    Something about “When in the Course of Human Events…”

    But it’s an interesting debate as I sit here in what may be Greater Idaho someday, and just north of Jefferson.

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