Head to Head
Conversations on Politics, Policy in the Golden State
By Louis J. Marinelli
California Should Exit the American Union –
It Was a Forced Marriage Anyway
Whether California should secede from the United States to become an independent country is an important question that is worthy of an honest discussion. However, it’s also worth examining this question from a different point of view. Let us examine not whether California should transition from U.S. statehood to nationhood, but instead whether California as a country today would even consider giving up its nationhood in exchange for U.S. statehood. If not, then why should we remain a state?
Would an independent California, population 40 million, abandon "one person, one vote" just to join a country whose election system favors states with small populations, and makes it possible for a candidate to win the popular vote but still lose the election?
Would we jeopardize women’s reproductive rights just to join a country that would open the floodgates to corporate money influencing our elections under Citizens United?
Would we abandon our efforts to combat climate change just to join a country whose elected representatives are supported by big oil companies, or whose people generally believe that climate change is a hoax?
Would we roll back our sensible gun safety laws just to join a country whose elected representatives are supported by the gun lobby, or whose people want to bear arms but don’t want to bear the responsibility of gun violence?
Would we join a country that spends hundreds of billions a year on its military – way more than any other country – while millions lack access to affordable housing, healthcare, and education?
In a word, no. And that’s without even mentioning the unsustainably growing national debt, the rising debt-to-GDP ratio, expanding domestic unrest, continued inequality for minorities in the judicial system (or in society as a whole for that matter), or the political gridlock, partisanship, and animosity that has brought the United States to a standstill and has destroyed our faith in its institutions.
The question is not why should California secede from the United States – but why shouldn’t it?
Some say California depends on Washington for federal subsidies but the federal subsidies we receive come from the federal taxes we pay. Over the last two decades, Californians have paid, on average, about $16 billion more in federal taxes than we have received back in subsidies.
Independence means we can keep that money here and invest it into the programs we choose without Washington using our taxes to subsidize other states.
Independence means our vote for a president of California will matter; we won’t be just a fundraising stop for candidates to collect money to spend in other states.
Independence means we can take real steps to combat climate change by signing binding international climate treaties that Washington has refused to sign in the past.
Independence means we can protect women’s reproductive rights from the Supreme Court, and our immigrant friends and family members from the new president.
Independence means we can enact the sensible gun safety legislation Californians want but can’t have because of an obsolete constitutional provision written when men bore muskets.
And independence means we can improve the quality of life for the people of California by diverting funds away from weapons of war and investing instead in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other social programs.
Every year the president of the United States paints a rosy picture of the state of the Union. We are told that the state of the Union is strong. The truth speaks another story. It speaks a story of a huge divide, gridlocked political partisanship, and strong animosity.
The state of this Union is so fractured that even Abraham Lincoln couldn’t keep this house divided against itself from falling.
This is a realization that we must come to accept. The longer we grasp on to a nostalgic attachment to the United States because of what it once represented, or what was once possible, the more our environment will suffer, the more our civil liberties will be in jeopardy for the sake of security, and the more our taxes will be spent subsidizing other states and bombing villages in other countries.
It is time for California to exit this union. It was a forced marriage anyway.
Louis J. Marinelli is the president of the Yes California Independence Campaign. The opinions in this article are presented in the spirit of spurring discussion and reflect those of the author and not necessarily the Treasurer, his office or the State of California.
By David I. Levine
Some Problems With "CalExit"
"Welcome to the Hotel California Such a lovely place …
You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave! "
--The Eagles, Hotel California
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory last month, some people in the Golden State have promoted California’s secession from the United States. But, unlike "Brexit" from the European Union, the Constitution has no procedure for secession of a state.
In his First Inaugural Address in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln explained why. While famously appealing to the "better angels of our nature," the new president made a lawyerly, but adamant, case that the Union was a "perpetual" creation. Thus, Lincoln held that: "No State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union." The Constitution of the United States could not "be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it."
The Supreme Court of the United States confirmed that a state could not unilaterally secede a few years after the Civil War ended the insurrection of the Confederacy. In Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869), the high Court endorsed the "indissoluble" nature of the Union. "[T]here is "no place for reconsideration, or revocation, except through revolution, or through consent of the States."
Assuming that Californians are not up for armed revolution against the full might of the United States of America, how could we obtain consent peaceably? Since the Constitution does not provide a method for secession, presumably a constitutional amendment would be required if California voters and the State Legislature ever agreed to ask for consent to secede. (Lincoln even discussed the amendment process in his address as a way to handle policy disputes between the states.) Under Article V of the Constitution, either Congress must pass a proposed amendment by a two-thirds vote in each House and then three-quarters of the States must ratify the amendment or else the never-used constitutional convention procedure must be invoked (two-thirds of the states call for a convention and then three-quarters of the states approve any action taken there).
Even if Congress and enough state legislatures voted to let us leave the Union, the new nation of California would confront a monumental bill, which almost certainly would be a condition for approval. The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed in 1918 that West Virginia had to reimburse Virginia millions of dollars for its share of the public debt when it was partitioned from Virginia early in the Civil War. Virginia v. West Virginia, 246 U.S. 565 (1918). Imagine reimbursing the federal government for our share of the national debt plus dealing with all federal property owned in or its investments made in California. For starters, how much would we have to pay for control of national forests and parks such as Lassen, Yosemite and Death Valley, the federal share paid for construction of our interstate highways, military facilities, and other infrastructure projects such as Shasta Dam and the Central Valley Project for water? The list goes on and on.
Many Californians are suffering PTDS – Post-Trump Depression Syndrome-- but an attempt at secession isn’t likely to cure that affliction.
David Levine is Emeritus Professor of Law at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. The opinions in this article are presented in the spirit of spurring discussion and reflect those of the author and not necessarily the Treasurer, his office or the State of California.