Secession raises some sticky questions

CINCINNATI - So, just how hard would it be for a state to secede, anyhow?

The basic question posed by secession is whether it can even be done under the United States' form of government. After all, the nation fought a bloody, four-year long Civil War over this very issue, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 750,000 soldiers and an undetermined number of civilian casualties.

There are two basic views on secession's legality.

Many conservatives and Libertarians argue that secession is allowed under the U.S. Constitution's Tenth Amendment. That's the amendment that reads, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

Because secession is not mentioned in the Constitution as a congressional power, supporters argue that means it remains in the sole authority of individual states.

In other words, the United States is a voluntary association that can be dissolved at any time by one of the parties to the agreement.

On the other end of debate are those who cite an 1869 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court involving the state of Texas.

Although the case mostly dealt with whether the Confederacy had the right to sell bonds that Texas had received from the federal government before the Civil War, the ruling also addressed whether secession was allowed at all.

In a 5-3 ruling, the court ruled the Constitution did not permit states to unilaterally secede from the United States.

The chief justice at the time was Salmon P. Chase, a former Cincinnati resident and whose name now is bestowed on Northern Kentucky University's law school.

In the majority opinion, Chase wrote, "The Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation."

Chase added, "(t)he union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States."

At a tea party rally in 2009, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said, "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."

Still, even Perry has said he doesn't support the current effort. Another Texas politician, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, said the right exists and there's nothing wrong with considering it.

"It's very American to talk about secession. That's how we came into being," Paul wrote.

"It's not un-American to think about the possibility of secession. This is something that's voluntary," he said. "We came together voluntarily. A free society means you can dissolve it voluntarily."

Even if federal and state lawmakers agreed on letting one of the 50 states depart from the union, the action would trigger a complicated series of ramifications that would affect every citizen in the newly independent territory.

For starters, residents of the departed state would likely no longer be eligible to receive federal benefits like Social Security or Medicaid.

Even though residents of the departed state have paid into those programs, the argument may not hold much weight with the federal government. A study by the independent, nonpartisan Tax Foundation in 2004 found that 32 states receive more in federal spending than they pay in federal taxes.

Those states include most "red states" and the ones that voted for Mitt Romney, including Texas and all of the Deep South.

Also, students in the newly departed state probably wouldn't be eligible for federal Pell Grants to help pay for college.

Other questions remain, like whether passports would be needed to travel from one nation to the next? Would open borders be allowed, or would we see a support for border fences?

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the average amount of federal aid given to state and local governments amounts to $2,011 per person.

Twenty-four states, however, receive far above that amount. Those include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota, among others.

Ohio ranked slightly below the national average, but above 24 other states.

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