From what I have heard from Yes California, it requires a state constitutional amendment and then a referendum put before the populace. Are there any other steps?

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    Didn't the Civil War settle this question? Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 2:55
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    As @DavidSchwartz alluded to, winning a Civil War arising out of such secession would do the trick.
    – user4012
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 0:29
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    Yep. Step 1: Declare yourself independent. Step 2: Defend your independence via military force. Good luck.
    – BradC
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 16:43
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    @David Schwartz: No, it did not settle the question, it simply demonstrated that the North had a stronger military, and the willingness to slaughter some 2/3 of a million people in order to hold on to power.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 16:58
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    @jamesqf in order to end slavery
    – Caleth
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 15:57

3 Answers 3


An official legal secession of a state from the union is unprecedented and has no formal procedure. So the short answer to your question is that they are making it up as they go along

However, it doesn't really matter because based on previous Supreme Court precedent a state is not allowed to secede from the US. This was brought up a few years ago when Texas was talking about seceding. The relevant case is Texas V. White, which rules that states cannot unilaterally leave the union. From the majority opinion (emphasis mine):

By these, the Union was solemnly declared to "be perpetual."


When, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State.

In other words, no matter what procedure California comes up with, Calexit isn't legally happening unless they find a way to overturn Texas V. White (and its not going to happen).

The other option of course is some sort of secession by force, but that is not technically legal.

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    This is not an absolute bar. It would simply take a Constitutional amendment allowing states to secede and setting out the requirements.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 16:57
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    @jamesqf That's a non-argument. The only thing that can't be resolved by an amendment is to change the equal representation of the States in the Senate. Nobody named Peter is allowed to be President? Amendment! Peanut butter and jelly is the official food of Tuesday? Amendment! You have the right to tattoo your political opinions on your neighbor's butt? Amendment! Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 15:36

From Texas v. White:

There was no place for reconsideration, or revocation, except through revolution, or through consent of the States.

So if the other states consent, California could secede. Unfortunately, there is no definition of what it would mean for the other states to consent. A constitutional amendment could definitely settle this. However, the courts could choose to accept other mechanisms as valid consent. E.g. a treaty ratification, a law, or a referendum (which would have to be enabled by a law).

We don't know what would be a valid consent. We just know that they did not receive it during the Civil War. Texas v. White is often viewed as settling this question, but it really doesn't. All it really says is that unilateral secession is not possible. It doesn't try to define what might make for consensual secession.

The Supreme Court could certainly rule that secession requires a constitutional amendment. But it has yet to go that far. Texas v. White only says that either consent or successful revolution are required. It doesn't describe the conditions of either. That task was left for a future court.

Note that the sentence I quoted appears at the end of the paragraph talking about a perpetual, indissoluble union.


This is a matter respecting the integrity of the Constitution of the United States which, if breached, would predictably trigger catastrophic consequences on a global scale. So there are few options. All are unlikely to succeed.

The options are:

  1. Amend the U.S. constitution to establish a procedure for one or more states to leave the union.
  2. Agree to secession by treaty with the United States.
  3. Fight a war with the United States (and win).

Obviously, none of these is likely to happen. So, most likely, the Calexit movement is nothing more than a political stunt promulgated by a faction within state government for political reasons internal to California state politics.

  • 3 doesn't fit the legality condition of the OP, and 2 is not technically legal due to case law I posted in my answer. Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 3:09
  • @DavidGrinberg: #2 is a (legal) decision and precedent that has no jurisdiction over a (political) treaty, if properly entered into, by the Congress and Executive branches. In other words, the Judicial Branch can not hold the other two branches hostage and force them to keep a state they wish to expel if they do so by a proper treaty. The precedent establishing the legality of #3 is the United States Declaration of Independence and the events leading to and precipitating the departure of the American Colonies from the British Crown. Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 3:23
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    Treaties have to be ratified by the senate, and the senate would technically not be able to ratify the treaty because it would be against the law. Not that it would matter anyways because states are not allowed to unilaterally enter into treaties, so California would end up in a chicken-and-egg situation (cant make a treaty because its a state not a nation, but cant become a nation because it cant make a treaty). Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 3:26
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    "... the integrity of the Constitution of the United States which, if breached, would predictably trigger catastrophic consequences on a global scale." Citation needed. The constitution of the USA is an internal matter for that country; what do you think depends on it outside the US? Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 13:16

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