Do states’ rights allow opting out of the Union?

It might well be nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to the results of the Nov. 6 general election that saw incumbent President Barack Obama re-elected for a second four-year term, but residents in 39 of the 50 states — including West Virginia — have begun petition drives to secede “peacefully” from the United States (Editor’s note: that number has since grown to include all 50 states).

These petitions began appearing on the White House’s website “We the People” soon after the Nov. 6 general election. This platform was actually created in September 2011 to give citizens an opportunity to express their First Amendment right to petition the government. But petitions for secession almost certainly were not what the White House had in mind.

An individual who identified himself only as Daryl N. from Vienna in Wood County is credited with initiating the West Virginia petition. It already had 3,651 electronic signatures one week after the election. However, about half those signatures apparently came from individuals who live in other states, according to a report in the Charleston Daily Mail.

The header on the petition states that “we petition the Obama Administration to: Peacefully grant the State of West Virginia to Withdraw from the United States and Create it’s own NEW Govern (sic).”

Bob Bastress, a constitutional law professor at West Virginia University, said the results of the Civil War when West Virginia broke away from Virginia to become a state in 1863 provide ample evidence that “it’s not constitutional to secede.” Virginia and all the other Confederate states rejoined the union after losing the Civil War.

Perhaps that is why West Virginia’s response is nowhere near the most ambitious among the 39 states to initiate these petitions. Texas already has 81,023 signatures, which is the most of any state, and Louisiana — credited with being the first state to begin such a petition drive after the election — had just over 30,000 signatures by last Tuesday.

Fortunately, no one in West Virginia has weighed in on the opposite side of this issue. But there has been a definite reaction by some Texans. The city of Austin has filed a petition on this same federal website seeking permission to withdraw from Texas and remain a part of the United States. Austin’s petition, which also seeks to annex the smaller towns of Dublin, Lockhart and Shiner, has 1,007 signatures so far.

Since West Virginia chose to remain a part of the United States nearly 150 years ago, surely the majority of residents here will still want to maintain that connection.

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