Supreme Court cases for and against secession


Jan 1, 2020
I am creating this thread as a companion piece to my thread;

Here I'm looking for any evidence from supreme court cases, either as ratio decidendi or obiter dictum, on secession either for or against. Also will accept personal writings from supreme court justices on the issue. Since secession itself probably wasn't address will also accept statements on the nature of the union or statements on state sovereignty as related to secession. Please explain why you think this evidence supports/does not support secession. This thread is not to discuss/debate if the supreme court was correct on their statements or decisions though.

I'll begin with this;

"The Constitution of the United States was ordained and established not by the States in their sovereign capacities, but emphatically, as the preamble of the Constitution declares, by ‘the people of the United States." Joseph Story Martin v Hunter 1821

If the states did not establish the constitution then they can't break it. Only the people of the United States can break it.

and this;

"The people made the constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their will, and lives only by their will. But this supreme and irresistible power to make or to unmake, resides only in the whole body of the people; not in any sub-division of them. The attempt of any of the parts to exercise it is usurpation, and ought to be repelled by those to whom the people have delegated their power of repelling it." Chief Justice John Marshall Cohens v Virginia 1821

Justice Marshall again reiterates that the constitution was created by the whole people and goes further to say no sub-division of them can unmake it.


Feb 19, 2011
Gibbons v Ogden, 1824 - "In every such case, the act of Congress or the treaty is supreme, and the law of the State, though enacted in the exercise of powers not controverted, must yield to it."
- thus a State law of secession yields to acts of congress or us treaties.

Cohens v Virginia, 1821 - 'The constitution and laws of a State, so far as they are repugnant to the constitution and laws of the United States, are absolutely void."
- same point as zbove

Fletcher v Peck, 1810 - "Union has a constitution the supremacy of which all acknowledge, and which imposes limits to the legislatures of the several states, which none claim a right to pass"
- so State legislatures lack right to overrule supremacy if union

Ware v Hylton, 1796 - "no legislature of any state has any kind of power over the constitution ... it is the declared duty of the state judges to determine any constitution or laws of any state, contrary to that treaty (or any other), made under the authority of the United States, null and void."
-state secession law is contrary to us treaties that define boundaries of us

US v Fries, 1800 - "That if a body of people, conspire and meditate an insurrection to resist or oppose the execution of any statute of the United States by force, they are only guilty of a high misdemeanor; but if they proceed to carry such intention into execution by force, that they are guilty of the treason of levying war; and the quantum of the force employed neither lessens or increases the crime -- whether by one hundred or one thousand persons is wholly immaterial"
- seems self evident to me