By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Hundreds of thousands of Americans still miffed about the outcome of last week’s presidential election are asking President Obama to allow their state to withdraw from the United States. Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are just three of the more than 40 states that want out.
The whitehouse.gov website allows citizens to communicate with the government through online petitions. Those that receive more than 25,000 signatures get an official response. So far, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — states Obama actually won on Election Day — have a long way to go to reach the threshold. Texas, which went to Governor Mitt Romney, is in the lead with more than 100,000 signatures.
“At the end of the day, none of this stuff will work,” says Penn Law professor Kermit Roosevelt, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
“This is an idea in political theory, but it has no basis in the law,” he says. “It does have a basis in history. States have seceded in the past and then we fought a civil war about that, but in the end they were not allowed to secede.”
Roosevelt says rules in a democracy mean you can’t walk away if you dislike the outcome of a fair election.
On the other hand, he says it is clear petitioners haven’t given much thought to what secession actually means. Roosevelt points out that withdrawing from the United States would mean saying goodbye to federal dollars. In the harsh light of a down economy, standing on your own might not be a good idea.
“They would almost without exception be financially worse off,” says Roosevelt. “If you look at the amount of money that the states pay and the amount of money that the states receive, many of the Republican-leaning states tend to receive more than they pay out. So if they want to secede, they’ll be worse off and the states that remain would be better off.”
Temple history professor Ralph Young, author of “Dissent In America”, says even though the petitions are pointless, the more pressing concern is the motivation behind them.
“Not all dissenters have some high motives,” he says. “Many of them are crackpots, they’re just sore losers. I would never say that all people who don’t like Obama are racist, but some of them are. Then there are people who really dislike a strong central government and think that President Obama will strengthen the federal government at the expense of state governments. That’s a legitimate beef, but it’s still no reason to think you can just secede from the government.”
Young says even if a state could secede from America, an informal petition would not be proper procedure. He says it would require participation by the state legislature.