Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley recently said she believes that states should have the right to do what their residents want to do — even if that means seceding from the United States.
In a Jan. 31 episode of “The Breakfast Club” radio show, host Charlamagne tha God asked Haley about Texas’ border dispute with the federal government and whether she still believes states have the right to secede, pointing to her previous remarks on the subject.
On the radio show, Haley acknowledged that Texas is not going to secede, but said, “If Texas decides they want to do that, they can do that. … If that whole state says, ‘We don’t want to be part of America anymore,’ I mean, that’s their decision to make.”
Haley later walked back her comments in a Feb. 4 CNN interview, saying the Constitution doesn’t allow states to secede. Haley’s campaign did not answer PolitiFact’s request for comment.
“What I do think they have the right to do is have the power to protect themselves and do all that,” Haley said on CNN. “Texas has talked about seceding for a long time. The Constitution doesn’t allow for that. But what I will say is … where’s that coming from? That’s coming from the fact that people don’t think that (the) government is listening to them.”
For months, Texas and the federal government have been locked in a tense standoff over border security measures as record numbers of migrants illegally cross into the U.S. from Mexico. Meanwhile, social media has been awash with claims about Texas seceding and warnings of an impending civil war.
“Texas is about to become its own country to stop a civil war from occurring,” a Jan. 30 Instagram post claimed.
To address Haley’s initial comment and the internet buzz, we asked constitutional law experts whether a state could secede from the U.S. The consensus was a resounding “no.”
Experts said the Civil War tested and settled this question 159 years ago, and Haley’s radio show remarks ignored this significant part of American history. It wasn’t the first time Haley, a former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, had misrepresented Civil War history.
The Constitution does not say anything explicitly for or against secession, experts said.
“But it’s pretty significant evidence that during the debates over ratification, when states were deciding whether or not to join this new union, no one said, ‘Well, if you don’t like it, you can always leave,’” said Kermit Roosevelt, a University of Pennsylvania law professor.
Roosevelt said if Haley was making a moral or political argument, she could appeal to the Declaration of Independence as the 11 seceding Southern states did at the time of the Civil War.
“But that’s not the Constitution, and the aspect of the Declaration that we consider foundational to America now is more ‘all men are created equal’ than ‘it is the right of the people to alter or abolish’ their government,” Roosevelt said. “So Haley is offering a Confederate view of the Constitution that cost us over half a million lives.”
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.
After the Civil War, in 1869, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Texas v. White that the U.S. is “an indestructible union” and states do not have the right to unilaterally secede.
“When Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation,” the ruling stated. “There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.”
The late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia also weighed in on secession’s legality: “If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede,” Scalia wrote in a 2006 letter.
If Texas or another state wanted to secede and the state reached an agreement via Congress with the rest of the country, then it might work, said Brian Kalt, a Michigan State University law professor.
However, it’s more likely a secession attempt “would constitute an insurrection against the United States that the central government would be entirely justified in suppressing by armed force, just as Lincoln did the Confederacy,” said Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri law professor.
Haley said, “If that whole state says, ‘We don’t want to be part of America anymore,’ I mean, that’s their decision to make.”
Constitutional law experts told us the Civil War’s outcome and Supreme Court precedent say the opposite. We rate Haley’s claim False.