• Does the constitution of USA allow the President to dismiss Governors' of States who rebel against the Union?
  • Does the constitution of USA allow the President to dissolve the Assemblies of States which declare secession?
  • What are the legal means available to the President of the USA to deal with States that declare secession, either through resolutions in Legislative Assemblies or by declarations by Governors?
  • Can the US Congress do something about this?
  • Can the US Senate do something about this?
  • How can the USA legally avoid secession of states like Texas and California (if they choose to do so)?

2 Answers 2

  • There is no constitutional provision specifically allowing the President to dismiss a state Governor for any reason.

  • There is no constitutional provision specifically allowing the President to dissolve a state legislature.

  • The US Federal Constitution requires the President to "take care that the laws be executed".

Several relevant laws are contained in 10 U.S. Code Chapter 13 - INSURRECTION.

Section 251 (renumbered from 240a) provides that:

Whenever there is an insurrection in any State against its government, the President may, upon the request of its legislature or of its governor if the legislature cannot be convened, call into Federal service such of the militia of the other States, in the number requested by that State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to suppress the insurrection.

Section 252 provides that:

Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion.

Section 253 provides that:

The President, by using the militia or the armed forces, or both, or by any other means, shall take such measures as he considers necessary to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy, if it—

(1) so hinders the execution of the laws of that State, and of the United States within the State, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law, and the constituted authorities of that State are unable, fail, or refuse to protect that right, privilege, or immunity, or to give that protection; or

(2) opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.

In any situation covered by clause (1), the State shall be considered to have denied the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution.

Section 254 provides that:

Whenever the President considers it necessary to use the militia or the armed forces under this chapter, he shall, by proclamation, immediately order the insurgents to disperse and retire peaceably to their abodes within a limited time.

Sections 251-254 of 10 USC in their current form all date from 1956, but are directly derived from the Insurrection Act of 1807. Under these laws the President has the right and duty to "take such measures as he considers necessary" to suppress any rebellion, which would include any proclaimed secession, including "using the militia or the armed forces" or any other available and effective methods.

According to the Wikipedia article (linked above, citations omitted) the Insurrection Act:

has been invoked throughout American history. In the 19th century, it was invoked during conflicts with Native Americans. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was invoked during labor conflicts. Later in the 20th century, it was used to enforce federally mandated desegregation, with Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy invoking the Act in opposition to the affected states' political leaders to enforce court-ordered desegregation. More recently, governors have requested and received support following looting in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

In addition 18 USC Chapter 115 deals with related issues, making rebellion, insurrection, or conspiracy to rebel crimes. Section 2383 provides that:

Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

Section 2384 provides that:

If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

Under these various laws the President has power to use whatever means are required, including military force, to suppress and end any rebellion or insurrection, and arrest the perpetrators thereof. Anyone convicted by a court of insurrection is thereafter barred from elected office, federal ore state.

The precedent of President Lincoln's actions at the start of the US Civil War is clear. However, the prospect of any current declaration of secession seems remote.

Presumably a state could leave the US with consent of Congress, although this has never occurred and there is no specific Constitutional provision allowing it.

Congress could pass further laws dealing with any actual or threatened secession, but the laws already existing seem sufficient, they give the President wide power to act in such cases.

It was established by the US Supreme Court in Texas v. White, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 700 (1869) that secession is not legal, even if enacted by a state legislature, and specifically that the purported secession of Texas in 1861 did not legally remove it from the Union. No later court case or law has contradicted this, to the best of my knowledge.


The best argument that the Constitution does not allow secession is Texas v. White, which expressions the underlying belief in ¶98 ff. saying

It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?...[Texas] entered into an indissoluble relation...The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration, or revocation, except through revolution, or through consent of the States.

Therefore, unless found otherwise by SCOTUS, a state may not secede (so "avoiding" secession is a non-issue). However, a state may symbolically secede as an act of political expression, in passing a resolution asserting independence. The bright line that may not be crossed is "(ultimate) obedience to federal law".

"Rebellion" is a very broad term, encompassing actual armed struggle as well as being uncooperative. Texas v. White also affirms the autonomy of the individual states, as specified in the Constitution. A governor may decide to not comply with a federal mandate, which is one kind of "rebellion". The executive branch (on behalf of "The United States") then sues the state, and SCOTUS decides whether the federal mandate is enforceable or not. Supposing that the court sides with the executive branch, then there will be court orders, but ultimately it comes down to an action by the executive branch. This has happened a number of times in history, where POTUS sends troops to enforce the law.

There is no constitutional or statutory authority for POTUS to dismiss a governor, nor to dissolve a state legislature. Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) has the power to enact laws, as long as the laws so enacted are consistent with the US Constitution.

It comes down to the exact form of the rebellion. It is legal to peacefully resist, until a final judicial ruling is made that definitively decides the issue. POTUS has the power to use troops to enforce thhe law.

  • 10 USC 252 says that when it is " impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States" via the courts, military force may be used. 10 USC 253 also authorizes military force "or other means" when US laws are obstructed by an insurrection or conspiracy. These laws give the President wide latitude to enforce laws in the event of "obstruction" which need not be violent, but could consist of passive refusal Mar 26, 2022 at 17:02

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