Copyright© 2020 by Ernest Bywater
Four senior members of the US Congress, two from each of the major parties, are sitting in a restaurant talking about some current issues while having coffee after a late meal. As it’s late on a Tuesday night there are only five other people still in the restaurant lingering over their coffee, just as they are. Their talks get a little louder as one of them gets angry about the current discussion topic. The youngest man from one party says, “I don’t care what they want, a state can’t secede from the Union. Already there’s been too much blood spilled to prove that.”
A man at a nearby table turns in his seat to say, “While what you say is true of how the US Constitution is in its current form and it’s what the US Founding Fathers intended, as is shown by the prior documents being called the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, but there is a legal way for a state to secede. However, it will be very costly and long to do.”
The three men stare at the man for a moment, until the oldest man says, “You don’t sound American. What makes you think you know the US Constitution better than we do? How would secession be legal?”
The man smiles at them as he replies, “I’m Ernest Edwards, and I’ve closely studied the US Constitution as background of some books I’ve written. As an Australian with no prior knowledge of the details I was able to look at it without any preconceived ideas. However, most of the US citizens only know the short summaries they learned in school while the US academics all have preconceived ideas on what it says, so they have no way to think about how a secession can be done.”
The four men introduce themselves while they think about what they were just told. One of them invites Ernest to join them for coffee and more discussion of what he means.
Once the new cups of coffee are on hand Ernest has his notepad out on the table as he starts to talk while writing, “The first thing is to note that many of the articles of the Constitution and the Amendments have nothing to do with secession at all. The second thing to note is the main item against secession of a state is the Preamble and how it’s worded,” he goes on to write it down for them as he says it from memory:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
He continues with, “Please note it starts with ‘We the people of the United States,’ thus making this an agreement between the people and not between the states the way the earlier documents did. It then goes on to list the expected returns of forming the Union and states it’s for ‘our posterity’ to make it clear it’s a permanent union. Thus it’s clear secession is not allowed under the US Constitution as originally written. However, when you take into account Article Five you have the framework of how you can amend the Constitution to allow for secession. The hard part will be meeting the aims of both the Preamble and Article Five. Most say it can’t be done, but it can be done with a lot of work and a long time frame. The key is how you word the amendment to ensure it is not an open ended door for secession while not welding it shut as well. You’ll also have to include some restrictions to ensure what area does secede has a fair chance of continuing on its own and the people in the seceding area are really in favor of it. One way to do that would be to allow the people in the states to opt out of secession if they wish.” They all frown at him, so he adds, “Make the vote on a county basis and only contiguous counties with a foreign border can secede provided they’re big enough in people or land they can continue to grow on their own. If a non-seceding county is surrounded by seceding counties then they will have to secede too, as it wouldn’t be good to have enclaves inside any of the countries.”
One of the diners says, “I think I see what you mean. If only half of New York wants to secede then the other half can stay while a single county in Tennessee wanting to secede can’t because it’s surrounded.”
Ernest nods yes while saying, “Yes. Exactly so. That way the citizens in each county get to say what they want to do instead of just the state legislature who are in charge because of a few more populous counties voted the politicians in. The original acceptance of the US Constitution was voted on in each county, and that provides a precedence of using a county as the level at which a secession can be made. The biggest cost will be the need for a verified voter register for federal elections and to organize a federal election to approve the secession vote. This is needed to ensure that only the citizens vote on the issue as only they have any rights under the US Constitution.”
The four men talk for a long time, then leave the restaurant only after being asked to leave so the owner can go home as he’s already sent all of his staff home when all of the other customers left. Standing on the footpath outside of the restaurant the Congressmen talk Ernest into working with one of the Congress staffers who’s very good at wording bills to go before Congress. Once Ernest and the staffer have a bill ready to put to Congress they’ll arrange for him to talk to many of the influential members of Congress in both the House and the Senate so he can explain the bill to them and gain their support for pushing the bill through both of the Houses without any changes.
They break up and walk off toward their vehicles. However, before Ernest can reach his rental car one of the men catches up to him to ask him for some further talks in private. They soon agree to meet at another café for coffee and more conversation.
Once the two men are seated at a table in the back of another café with a cup of coffee each the Congressman asks, “I think what you suggest may work, but please tell me why my party should support the plan? Especially the full check of the voter registers.”
Ernest replies with, “The suggested Amendment won’t get through the Congress unless it’s strongly supported by both parties, and the other party won’t support anything without a full voter register check. The end result would be proving to everyone how weak the other party is to now cave in to allow the possibility of secession after all the years of refusing it.” The man smiles at Ernest, finishes his coffee, and leaves.
The next morning Ernest arrives at the office he was told to go to in one of the additional buildings used for the administrative offices of the junior Members of the House. Once he signs in he’s taken to an office where he meets with one of the men from last night, one of the men from the other party to the one Ernest last spoke to the night before. However, this is the office of a junior colleague and not the man’s regular office. The man says, “I’ve arranged for you to have a set of offices in this building while you work on the proposed Amendment. One of the House senior staffers will be here with a select group of staffers whose loyalties are mixed, so be very careful of what you say in front of them because everything you do and say in front of them will be passed on to both of the party leaders.” After Ernest nods to show he understands the man adds, “Now tell me why my party should support letting the other party have their secession!”
Ernest grins as he says, “I strongly suspect the core of the other party’s supporters will be told to vote for secession, so those areas they have a large support in will not be voting in future Federal elections and the members of Congress elected by them will no longer be part of the House. That will have some sort of effect on the balance of the house. Won’t it?” The man grins before turning to lead the way to where they can get some hot coffee.
Half an hour later Ernest is in a conference room with seven of the House staffers. Once all are seated with beverages he stands and says, “Good morning. My name is Ernest Edwards and you may call me Ernest or Ern, but never Boss or hey you. I don’t know what you’ve been told about this team you’ve been seconded to, but you’re here to help me draft an Amendment to the US Constitution to meet the requirements of both Houses of Congress and the laws. I’ll be giving you the directions on what is to be in it and you’ll be writing it. I’ll be the one to approve all of the final aspects, and then it goes to Congress for consideration.” He stops to look over the people in the room, and it’s obvious not all were told about the project beforehand. He adds, “I’m told some of you have loyalties to each of the parties and everything that’s said while we do this work will reach the ears of both party leaders. Be clear, I don’t have a preference for either party and I don’t care what you tell them as long as it’s the truth. However, this is to be a work team and I will not allow any party based political discussion by the team members unless they have a direct relevance to the work we are doing at that time. In that regards you can speak with me about how you think a particular wording will be seen by either party. There will be no discussion with outsiders of what we’re working on until such time as both of the Party Leaders of both Houses say the Proposed Amendment is to go before Congress. Our job is to get a well written proposal ready for submission to Congress as fast as we can.” He stops to look over them all again, then he adds, “If any of you feel you can’t work with anyone else in this team as a harmonious team you should speak up now so we can get a replacement before we start.” None of them move. “Which of you is the senior staffer here?” They all look around at each other, and Ernest can’t help himself from laughing when six of them turn to point at a lady in her fifties as she slowly puts her hand up. “Right. I’ll learn your names as we go. You, Ma’am, will be the Office Manager and direct the work of the others in the team as they do all of the research and the actual writing of the proposal. My job is to interface with the Members of Congress and to provide the team with direction and the content of what we want the Amendment to say. This proposal arose out of a meeting of Congressmen from both parties last night, and I was chosen to lead the team because I said the intended outcome could be legally done while they said it couldn’t be done. So they tasked me to do it.”
One of the staffers asks, “What are they paying you as a consultant?”
Ernest grins and says, “Payment wasn’t discussed, so I don’t know if I’m going to be paid at all. Right now my time and work is free, but I will be asking for a place to stay and meals. I’ll let the House Admin people decide what, if any, I’ll get paid. So there is no reason for me to drag this out, which is why I want to get it done as soon as we can.” They all have stunned looks at a special consultant not being on a huge salary. He turns to his new Office Manager and says, “I’ve been told offices in this building are available for our use. I want you to check them and make sure they’re suitable. We need one room where we can all sit at desks to work in an open plan office, a nice office to meet people in, and a twelve person conference capability which can be part of either office. We don’t need new furniture or computers, so some of the gear being replaced in other offices will do us as long as they’ll do the job and are comfortable to use. The computers will need word processing software, browsers, the approved security systems, and access to all of the research networks as well as a couple of printers. We’ll also need a few whiteboards for notes; they can be wall mounted or on wheels. Plus we’ll need a couple of tables and secure file cabinets.” He stops to look them over before he adds, “The bulk of the time all eight of us will be working in the same office with the same desks and gear as I find it’s the best way for people to work as a team. If any of us need to meet with any of the Members of Congress the office will be used for the meeting so they’ll be comfortable and it will meet their expectations. Now you all need to meet those of the team you don’t know, and then get our work office organized.” They all stand as they start talking to each other while Ernest walks around the room to greet each of the seven team members.
An hour later the Office Manager is leading Ernest to the offices they’ll be using while the other staff are busy organizing for the delivery of the furniture, computers, office supplies, and all of the other items they’ll need to have a functioning office. Since they’re getting recently replaced older gear from the storage areas the offices should be ready with it all in place and connected some time this afternoon, after the maintenance staff check all of the electrical and computer connection.
The next morning the eight project team members are in their main office when Ernest walks to the whiteboard at the front of the room, picks up a marker, and starts to write on the board while he reads out the aims of the Amendment they’re to write. The board soon reads as:
Proposed Constitutional Amendment Aims
1. Within the confines of Article Five of the US Constitution draft an Amendment to allow for the citizens of part of the Union of the United States to secede from the Union without leaving it as a permanent free-for-all to happen at any time.
Note: As the Constitution is a document between the citizens of the United States which also requires approvals by the State governments it needs approval from the citizens as well as the States to dissolve part of the Union to allow for any of political sub-units of the Union to secede from the Union.
Note: Since it’s almost impossible to get a uniform agreement on anything by all of the citizens within any large political entity no change is likely to be approved unless it can be done at the level of the smallest political sub-units which is the County. Thus the decision to secede will be voted on and made at the County level. So the voting and decision will be by each County and not the whole State. This will mean some parts of a State may secede while some parts may not.
2. The vote for secession will be done in a way to ensure only US citizens are involved in the vote.
Note: This will require the establishment of a way to create a voter registration system limited to citizens who’ve been verified as US citizens. It will also need to be maintained and allow people to not be in it if they so wish. However, it will need to include a provision to limit US Federal Election Voters to those on this list with a time period set to stop new registrations prior to a US Federal Election.
3. The issue of secession seems to arise every one hundred to one hundred and fifty years and it would be too disruptive to have this happening at any time, so clauses need to be included to set a time period to allow for consideration of secession after a few generations go by. Suggest an opportunity for a secession to be considered every one hundred and fifty years with a window of opportunity of five years to start the process.
Note: The length of the processing time is to be long enough to allow for the voting and changeover process as well as the process of notifying the Congress. This is to allow for the key aspects to align with US Federal Elections already scheduled.
4. A process on how to conduct and handle the secession vote and changeover is to be included in the Amendment.
Note: The process is to detail how to handle the transition from being in the Union to being outside of it, and it’s to include the transfer of US Federal facilities as well as taxes and all other US Federal services plus State and National Parks and heritage listed places.
5. Enclaves without a free external border will not be allowed. So a seceding County will need to have an International border which can be a coastal border, or be contiguous with another County with an International border. Otherwise it will be the same status as its surrounding Counties.
Note: This restricts seceding Counties to being those with an International border or having a side touching such a County. This will likely force some Counties to secede when they don’t want to and also stop some from seceding. However, this is a security measure.
6. Each seceding area must have sufficient land, population, and economic capability to be able to continue to exist and operate on its own after the transition is over. If any area is seen as too small then it won’t be allowed to secede.
Note: This requires research to establish the correct parameters for the limitations and they are to be included in the Amendment.
7. Any seceding County that depends upon another County for its International border access must become a part of the new political entity with the International border. Any other seceding County or County group with its own International border access may choose to be part of a group it is contiguous with or to establish its own new political entity provided each meets the parameters set out in the point above. Thus each of the seceding areas gets to choose their own future. If one group tries to force another group to join them the group under pressure can call upon the USA for assistance to stop them.
8. Any area that secedes and later wishes to rejoin the Union can do so by applying to the US Congress for inclusion as per Article Four of the US Constitution for the US Congress to decide if to accept them as a new Territory. The returning area will not be automatically accepted as part of the State they seceded from. The returning area may or may not be part of the State they left as such a decision will require the approval of both the current State Legislature and the US Congress.
Note: This section needs to include processes on the status of the residents of the returning area and how establishing their citizen status will be done as those choosing to leave the Union stop being US citizens. While those who were US citizens will be able to reclaim their US citizenship upon application, and those born elsewhere will need to be processed as a new migrant to the US.
General Note: The finished Amendment is to include the reasons for each important decision point and process item as either part of the Section it relates to or at the end of the document, but it must be included within the Amendment so there can be no later dispute on what is meant with the wording in it.
Naturally, there’s a break after he writes each aim of the Amendment as some of the team members argue about the legality of the proposal. As each note and further point is written up the discussions among the team expands to include them. As more is written the room goes quieter.
The next day a professional looking sign appears on their office door stating it is the CAT Office. When Ernest asks about the meaning Jennifer, the Office Manager, says, “This is the Constitution Amendment Team Office. Also, I’m a cat lover and I couldn’t resist the joke.”
Ernest laughs at her joke while he says, “The finished work will be really like the saying of throwing the cat among the pigeons when we get this done properly.” Jennifer laughs at his response. Ernest also notes all of the staff now have a name badge and a name plate on their desks, so he picks his badge up and he puts it on.
Over the next few weeks other notes appear on the whiteboards as the team members identify important aspects they feel need to be included in the Amendment. Many of them address the likely sub-issues and are worded to make them easy to comply with once they’re in force. Many are like the note for the acceptance of residents in returning areas:
Residents of seceded areas returning to the Union who had previously been US citizens must apply for citizenship and it will be granted once their identity is proven to the satisfaction of the US Immigration Authorities while other residents lodge applications to migrate to the US as per the US Immigration laws and processes in place when the people of the area apply to rejoin the Union.
By referring to the laws current at the time of return they simplify what needs to be included in the Amendment.
Another set of important notes are the ones stating the parameters of the land, population, and economic capabilities they set as minimums after they do the research on the many Micro States around the world as well as the various islands in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. This research goes into real depth on which are doing well and which aren’t doing well, plus the reasons why they are or aren’t doing well.
Another set of notes states the reasons why enclave areas are not to be allowed while stating cut off areas of the Union will be allowed to stay as long as they have a sea border access like Alaska and Hawaii do.
Two Aims the other team members add to the Amendment list are:
9. The Amendment is to include wording to the effect once this Amendment is ratified it can not be repealed and replaced with another secession Amendment unless this Amendment is reinstated with the same wording.
10. Only a State which has ratified this Amendment may apply to secede from the Union.
Another important note the team adds to the boards is on Federal facilities within the seceding areas which notes:
US Federal facilities that consist of a single building or a small group of buildings are to be sold to the seceding government or private buyers at the current commercial rates for such a building or group of buildings at the time of the sale. Large US Federal facilities, especially those designated as Military Bases, will be offered to the seceding government for purchase at the current commercial rate for land in that area at the time of sale or be leased to the US Federal government free of charge for the next twenty-five years and then handed over to the seceding government for no charge. At the time any US Federal facility or building is handed over to the seceding government or sold to private buyers it is to be stripped bare prior to handing it over.
Another new point the team adds is on the position of officials in the areas that secede and then return to the Union. The note is:
11. No person who held an elected or appointed or employed position in the Federal or State or County government in the lead up to an area seceding is eligible to hold an elected or appointed or employed position in any area of the Union if they had been actively promoting the secession or voted for secession in a vote where their vote is linked to their position.
The team members feel if someone pushed for secession and the area stays in the Union or returns to the union then it shows they did not act in the best interest of the people they were supposedly representing.
The notes on the two key points of the Amendment change a lot before they become very detailed. One is handled by stating a bill for the establishment of a Federal Election Voter Registration is to be written and passed by both houses at the same time to include how to verify citizenship for Federal elections. However, the secession process is a lot more controversial before it ends up as a list of key action points of:
A. During the secession window the State Legislature or a County Governing Body petitions the Congress for the Right to Secede.
B. The voters in the petitioning State or County are asked to register with the Federal Election Voter Registration system if they wish to vote on the secession. Only Registered Voters may vote on the matter.
C. The vote on secession must be held at the next available Federal election provided it is at least six months from the date of the petition to secede so the registration of voters can take place and be verified. Otherwise it will be at the following Federal election.
D. A minimum of fifty-one percent of the Registered Voters in a County must vote in favor of the secession for it to pass. This is an absolute number, not the percentage of the turn out of voters as absent voters are deemed to be voting against the secession. Thus, voting for the secession is purely voluntary. This also has the aim of ensuring the secessionists support having the Register validated.
E. Once the secession vote is in the Counties supporting secession are to be checked against the approval criteria and results publicly posted within six months. Then those disputing the approval have three months to challenge the decision.
F. One year after the vote the Congress will approve the petition of secession for the chosen Counties. The various Federal Agencies and Departments will start action to make arrangements for all of the Federal facilities and personnel in the seceding areas to be dealt with as per the earlier note on facilities. If an agreement can not be reached within nine months then they will be privately sold for the current market value or a lower value set by the Federal Agency.
G. At the next Federal Election following the Secession Election a confirmation of Secession Election will be held requiring sixty-five percent of Registered Voters to approve the secession to confirm the results. Persons who moved into the area within the last nine months will not be entitled to vote in this Confirmation Election.
H. The Full Secession will take place at the end of the first full tax year after the Confirmation Election.
I. The County, State, and Federal tax systems in place prior to the Secession Election can not be changed and tax rates can not be raised for the Succession areas until the Full Succession is in place.
J. While the secession process must start within the five year window of opportunity the process can run longer than the window due to how long it will take to fulfill the requirements of the process.
This procedure is meant to ensure an orderly process for the approval and changeover due to the time taken and the rechecking of events. The minimum time would be six months from petition to first vote then two years to the Confirmation Vote then a bit over a year for the final tax year to run for a total of almost four years. If the process starts less than a year before a Federal Election then it could run out to almost six years due to the delay in meeting the first time criteria. It also allows a County to be included for a secession vote even if the State Legislature does not wish it to secede. This again emphasizes the basic political entity is a County.
As the team nears the end of this phase they have visits from many of the senior Members of Congress from both parties in both of the Houses. They all discuss what the team has and even make some suggestions for inclusion which the team discusses before including most of them.
12. When a State Legislature petitions for secession and the County the State Capital is in is not an approved County for secession then the State Legislature must move the State Legislature and the State governing bodies to be in a County that is successful in seceding.
13. When a State or group of Counties is staying in the Union and the previous State Legislature is in a seceding area Congress is to nominate a Governor to operate as the temporary government. An election for State Legislature members must be held under the State’s existing Constitution within twelve months of the secession split. The new State Legislature is to meet and establish a new State Capital within the next twelve months.
14. A seceding State Legislature and County Government will assume ownership of all of the County and State assets within the seceding area and also assume all of the financial aspects of the organization they’re responsible for. To simplify this process new contracts for work during the secession process are to be limited to only essential matters.
15. Ownership of property, finances, assets, licenses, and authorities established prior to the secession must be recognized by the new government of the seceding area as valid under their laws.
Once the team has everything set out on the many whiteboards in the office they start working in pairs to write the wording of the various sections of the Amendment and the Federal Election Voter Registration Bill. Once a pair finishes a section it’s made available for the others to read and comment on. Every part of the document is changed many times as the team members find ways to word it better to make it very clear and not open to multiple interpretations. The final wording of both documents are placed before Ernest for approval, and each sentence is discussed in detail as a team before the documents are approved for submission to the leaders of both major parties in both houses. The whole task takes ten months to do, and most of them are surprised at the speed.
Note: Ernest is given a government owned apartment for the staff of foreign visitors with the standard staffer daily allowance for meals while away from home. His staff are stunned when they find out his work pay for all of his time on the team is only $20,000.00.
Key Political Points
During the preparation of the Bills for Congress there are many talks between Ernest and his staff with the leaders of both parties for both of the Houses of Congress and several other senior Members of Congress as well as their staff. Naturally there are many discussions with the staff of the Attorney General to ensure the legality of the wording.
In the end most of the reasoning for aspects of the Bills are included within the Bills themselves, and the rest is included in the supporting documents to go to Congress with the Bills. While much of what’s in the Bills deals with the procedures and processes to perform the actions of the Bills like the creation and maintenance of the Voter Registration System, voting, citizenship, handling of transfer of property ownership, finances, and the other matters mentioned in the Amendment discussions above, the essential points of interest to the politicians are:
A. Secession opportunity to nominate for secession to be available for any state or county or county equivalent for a five year period every one hundred and twenty years.
B. An external International border is required, and no enclaves.
C. Secession area minimum sizes in the terms of physical, economic, and population sizes are defined.
D. Returning to the Union to be as a new external territory and the current immigration processes will be used and enforced.
E. Sixty-five percent of eligible voters is needed for Secession.
F. State Legislatures petitioning for secession must move to a seceding county unless no county within their state secedes.
G. Persons promoting secession while a member of state or county administrations may not participate in any future state or county administration within the USA.