A fringe political group in California wants to opt out of a Donald Trump presidency by leaving the union.
The Yes California Independence Campaign aims to hold a referendum in 2019 that, if passed, would make California an independent country.
Far-fetched as it may sound, the plan started gathering steam after Tuesday night’s surprising presidential vote. The movement has an impressive backer in Shervin Pishevar, a well-known angel investor who offered to bankroll a campaign to secede.
“As the sixth-largest economy in the world, California is more economically powerful than France and has a population larger than Poland. Point by point, California compares and competes with countries, not just the 49 other states,” Yes California wrote in a statement.
Louis Marinelli, an outspoken political activist and president of Yes California, envisions California as a sovereign entity within the US, much like Scotland in the United Kingdom:
— #Calexit Campaign (@YesCalifornia) November 9, 2016
There is no clear path for how California might appeal to the federal government so that it may leave. The US Constitution lays out procedures for how a new state may enter the union, but there are no protocols for a nation to exit.
Marinelli, however, sees a workaround — with a ballot measure passed by California voters.
In 2015, Marinelli paid $200 each to get nine initiatives related to secession on a statewide ballot, according to The Los Angeles Times. None garnered the nearly 400,000 signatures necessary to appear on the ballot. So Marinelli and his followers are forced to start over.
Yes California now aims to gather enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot in 2018, when Californians will choose their next governor, for a referendum in 2019.
Should a clear majority declare their support for a Brexit-style departure, the group may follow one of two paths. Both lean on a significant case argued before the US Supreme Court in 1869 — Texas v. White — which touched on a state’s ability to secede.
Here’s option 1, as described in a statement from Yes California:
“A member of the California federal delegation to Washington would propose an Amendment to the US Constitution allowing the State of California to withdraw from the Union. The Amendment would have to be approved by 2/3 of the House of Representatives and 2/3 of the Senate. If the Amendment passed it would be sent to the fifty state legislatures to be considered (to satisfy the ‘consent of the states’ requirement in Texas v. White). It would need to be accepted by at least 38 of the 50 state legislatures to be adopted.”
“California could call for a convention of the states (which is currently being organized to tackle other constitutional amendments as we speak) and the Amendment granting California its independence would have to be approved by 2/3 of the delegates to this convention. If it passed, the Amendment would be sent to the fifty state legislatures to be considered and 38 of the 50 states would have to approve the measure in order for it to be adopted.”
No state has ever seceded from the union, despite Texas’ best efforts earlier this year.
“The legality of seceding is problematic,” Eric McDaniel, associate professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Texas Tribune in June, at the height of Brexit hysteria. “The Civil War played a very big role in establishing the power of the federal government and cementing that the federal government has the final say in these issues.”
Marinelli acknowledges the road ahead is long.
“What’s going on in the US politically and culturally is so different from what’s happening here,” Marinelli told The LA Times in 2015. “I want California to be all it can, and our group feels the political and cultural connection to the US is holding us back from our potential.”