Some Oregonians and northern Californians are so proud of their “rural values” that they want to leave their politically liberal states.
And they intend to do it while staying put.
Come again? How do you exit your state without physically leaving?
Simple. By getting your neighboring state to shift its borders to take you in.
In this case, that would be Idaho, a state with a political bent more to the liking of many rural people in Oregon and northern California who are not happy about the liberal Democratic leanings in their own states.
These people have created a movement, apparently with support in Idaho, to enlarge that state by adding eastern and southern Oregon and northernmost California to it. In Oregon, the proponents of this plan have created a tongue twister of a name for themselves, Move Oregon’s Borders for a Greater Idaho, which you at first think might translate into a catchy acronym until you realize that it comes out as MOBGI.
Anyway, MOBGI’s goal is to get enough support to put MOBGI on county ballots this fall. If voters say yes, that means they are authorizing their county boards to advocate leaving Oregon for Idaho. The goal is to move 22 of Oregon’s 36 counties, plus California’s northernmost rural counties, to Idaho. (This incidentally, would provide Idaho ocean access, which seems difficult to imagine if not flat-out wrong.)
The Long History of Secession Efforts in the U.S.
If this sounds slightly familiar, you’re right. A lot of people in Texas, for instance, have been talking about going back to the good old days when the Lone Start State was a sovereign nation of its own. And don’t forget Cascadia, the dream nation that was conjured up in the wake of the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. Cascadia, as you may recall, would have included all three West Coast states plus British Columbia and a bit of Southeast Alaska.
In fact, there have been hundreds of secession efforts in the U.S. since its birth. But if there are two words to describe all of them, they are these: abject failure. It’s always been really hard to secede from the union; after the bloody outcome of the last big one 160 years ago, when it cost 2 percent of the population their lives, it’s become nigh impossible.
Of course, people keep trying. In 2013, for instance, five rural Colorado counties voted to secede and create the state of Northern Colorado. And the secessionist Texas Nationalist Movement now counts some 382,000 members.
Though they might be passionate, these people have a tough row to hoe. The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once wrote, “If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.” In 2017, Pew Stateline examined the recent independence initiatives in the U.S. and concluded, “Despite the heightened interest in secession, many lawyers and constitutional scholars say it’s legally impossible for a state to secede because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t address the issue, and has no provision to allow it.”
Some pro-secessionists, however, argue that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the legal power to secede because it speaks of states’ rights in the absence of “powers not delegated to the United States” by the Constitution.
A Different Approach in the Pacific Northwest
But when talking about a new Greater Idaho, there’s no need to wade into the Constitutional weeds, because here’s the thing about MOBGI: It’s not a secession!
The disgruntled Pacific Northwest ruralites are apparently well aware of the legal difficulties, and so that’s why they’ve come up with a plan to just monkey with state borders.
Their strategy is to build support in the targeted 22 Oregon counties bit by bit with ballot initiatives in each. The idea is to mount enough grassroots support to convince the legislatures of both Oregon and Idaho to OK the move and then get the U.S. Congress to sign off on it.
At least that’s the apparent requirement outlined in Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which talks about states and borders and such. “(N)o new States shall be formed or erected with 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.”
But just as some pro-secessionists think the 10th Amendment provides the right to secede, there are those who think the supposed strict legislative hurdles of Article 4, Section 3 of the Constitution are bogus.
One of them is attorney Michael Farris, who recently penned an article in The Federalist, where he examined an effort in rural Virginia to urge their county governments to join West Virginia. Farris argues Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution is not an impediment because it speaks of the creation of new states, not reconfigured existing states.
Sounds simple. But if history serves, anytime Americans try to shift political boundaries, the task is incredibly difficult. So if you and your neighbors like the looks of the next state over and want to mount an effort to join it, be forewarned.
- ‘N. Colo.’ Secession? What a Split Vote Means for ’51st State’ (FindLaw’s Legally Weird)
- Could ‘South California’ Become Our 51st State? (FindLaw’s Legally Weird)
- Supreme Court Passed on Case at Heart of Oregon Standoff (FindLaw’s U.S. Supreme Court Blog)