Secession, California, Legal Study, Empirical Study, California Secession


Over the last decade, multiple initiatives have proposed that California should secede from the United States. This article examines the legal aspects of California secession and integrates that analysis with findings from an empirical study of public perceptions of such secession. There is no provision in the United States Constitution allowing states, or other political or geographical units, to secede unilaterally. The Civil War was fought to uphold this principle, and the United States Supreme Court confirmed it in its 1869 Texas v. White decision. Nevertheless, numerous instances of secession, both legal and extralegal, have occurred across human history, and there is continuing public interest in secession of various U.S. states, in particular California. We conducted an empirical study with 100 U.S. residents, half from California and half from other U.S. states, via Amazon’s crowdsourcing platform. We found that, while most participants (71%) opposed secession, a significant minority (25%) were in favor of it, with the remainder (4%) unsure. In addition, older people, and people who did not live in California, were statistically more inclined toward secession (37% in both cases) than were younger people (13%) and Californians (15%). Participants identified an array of themes relevant to California secession, including California being an “essential, vital component” of the U.S.; California being “indebted” to the U.S.; the U.S. keeping California “in check”; logistical factors such as “currencies,” “infrastructures,” “trade agreements,” and “a new military”; the “growing fascistic tendencies” of the U.S.; and feelings that California should “fend for themselves.” Other personal/idiosyncratic factors emerged as well, including residents’ concern about needing to “speak Spanish,” it becoming harder to “sell on eBay,” and that the “flags would need to be changed.” Still others were concerned about “violent confrontation” and “civil war.” Taken together, the legal and empirical factors paint a picture of the complexity of California secession, and offer insight into this and other instances of potential sociopolitical breakdown. Although unilateral secession would be illegal under U.S. law, we explore a number of peaceful secessions around the world, and abstract principles from them that may be helpful if California secession were ever to become a possibility. The numerous lines of argument provided by participants in this study, many of which find fault with the directions either of California or the rest of the U.S., help identify the stresses that could cause California to shear off and become a separate nation. While California would be the epicenter of this phenomenon, its aftershocks would likely be felt around the world.