Theoretical question...could Hawaii leave the Union?

Basically was talking to some friends of mine who are native Hawaiian, and one of the things that came up was how the annexation of Hawaii was illegal both internationally and even in our own system. My friends were pretty convinced this is fact, but when I looked it up it seemed more a gray area. But let’s say that it was illegal and found to be so by, say, the USSC. Could, in theory, Hawaiian’s vote to leave the Union and, based on the (asserted) illegal nature of its annexation, it be allowed to leave the Union and restore the monarchy or simply become its own nation-state?

I don’t want to get into should here in this debate. If you want to discuss whether Hawaii was annexed legally or not is fine, though I would rather focus on, assuming it was illegal if Hawaii could use that to leave the Union.

Your question doesn’t really make sense. If the USSC were to rule that Hawaii’s annexation was illegal, then Hawaii would not need a vote about leaving the union, because such a decision would mean that Hawaii had never been effectively made a part of the US. The USSC isn’t going to make that ruling because it would be a complete mess if they did, but in theory Hawaii would just suddenly not me considered part of the US, and a lot of messy lawsuits would start.

Well, I can’t really think how to frame the question I want to ask, which is if the annexation were found to be illegal could Hawaii leave the Union. I know that in most cases, states can’t really just vote and leave the Union, despite what some Texans seem to think. But it seems to me that Hawaii MIGHT be a special case…or maybe not.

If, for some reason, the annexation of the Hawai’ian Islands into the United States was “illegal”, then Hawai’i wouldn’t be part of the United States de jure. Of course, it’s been part of the United States de facto all this time, which might have some effect upon what gets done. But keep in mind; the territory of the islands was part of the US long before the territory ended up as a state. So this is not a case of a state wanting to leave the union (like those which attempted secession), but rather an area of the US having been illegally attached to our country.

It’s all rather silly; nothing is detaching Hawai’i from the US.

I think the real answer is that this theory is untested, but I fail to see how the issue of the legality of the 1898 annexation is not rendered moot by the subsequent act of Congress and the overwhelming Hawaii plebiscite, which resulted in statehood in 1959.

Maybe if subsequent action on Hawaii’s status had not been taken for the 120 years since annexation, there might be a good reason to question the annexation. But after several other important political developments since then? Might as well argue that Virginia isn’t lawfully part of the United States.

Or, West Virginia. :wink:

The Roman Senate never failed to graciously accept conquests made in the name of the People and Senate of Rome.
And every other action by whichever brute was riding high.

Is this all just another way of claiming Obama was never legitimately the President?

Depends on whether or not the court’s flag has gold fringe on it.

No, that decision would mean that Hawaii was an illegally occupied US territory at the time of annexation. It doesn’t say anything about the validity of the ensuing move to statehood.

Ravenman suggests that the plebiscite more or less settled things regardless of the legality of annexation, and as a practical matter he is correct. However, it’s hard to argue that the plebiscite represented the meaningful “self-determination” required by international norm/law given that the only voting options were “statehood” or “territory status.”

Hawaiians have never voted to be part of the US, only to be a state if they’re going to be part of the US.

Most of the Southwest was illegally stolen from Mexico, if you really want to go there.

Also, a lot of the people who lived in Hawaii by 1959 weren’t ethnic Hawaiians and would never have been able to moved there if it wasn’t for the US annexation.

Depends on your view of the legality of war and treaties. If you really want to go there, most of that land was previously illegally stolen by the Spanish from the Indians.

Agree. And so far as I’m aware, there’s nothing special about the association between the U.S. and Hawaii that provides Hawaii with rights that other states (or most countries in the Americas!) are not entitled to.

And even if there were such special rights afforded to Hawaii in the late 19th century, it would seem to me that any special considerations would have expired during admission to the union. To use an analogy, one can easily argue that the 13 colonies were improperly taken long ago: but that claim shouldn’t be able to upend the entire Constitution.

What is the international standard for meaningful self-determination?

The situations aren’t even remotely similar. As Elvis pointed out, we won those territories in a war with Mexico (which was definitely trumped up by the US…not saying it wasn’t an act of naked aggression here). There wasn’t anything ‘illegal’ about it, however, especially not in the late 19th century which is when it happened.

We didn’t have a war with Hawaii and basically allowed what amounted to a coup by a very small minority of white Hawaiians to unseat the monarch of the islands and allow for annexation and eventual statehood…all of which WAS hinky even at the time we did it.

Right, other states could claim such a thing. In any such dispute, assuming they had any validity at all, the courts would be highly unlikely to change the status of the state anyway. The upheaval of such a move would be far worse than maintaining their status. I forget what the courts call this kind of thing in general, but just like the case of establishing paternity for a child which DNA later proves to be wrong, at some point you go with what you got.

No chance any state ever leaves the union this way.

Any state can leave the union by convincing the rest of the country to pass a constitutional amendment removing them from the US, so the answer to ‘could they leave the union’ is technically ‘yes’ for any state. There is no way for a state to hold any kind of vote just in the state and have that vote directly result in leaving the US. There isn’t any ‘special case’ procedure in the constitution, it’s just not there. If the SC actually rules that Hawaii’s annexation was illegal, then either they’re not part of the US at all and so would have no reason to vote their way out of the US, if they issue dicta saying effectively ‘the annexation was illegal but no takebacks’ then it doesn’t have any legal effect, and certainly doesn’t add a special procedure to the constitution.

Sorry for not being pedantic enough. Such a ruling would mean that Hawaii was never actually a US territory, since it never legally became one. The fact that it wasn’t a US territory would mean that the move to statehood was invalid since Congress wouldn’t have had authority over the not-US-territory area to make it into a state. The Supreme Court simply isn’t going to do this because it would create a gigantic legal clusterfuck, they just don’t work that way.

While agreeing with your assessment that the courts just aren’t going to go down this road, there’s two important questions to ask anyway:

  1. What is the specific bit of law which courts would turn to in order to invalidate the act that provides for Hawaii’s statehood? (Not “the annexation was illegal!1!” but what is the text of the Constitution, treaty, or statute that was violated?)

  2. Has any act of Congress been invalidated by this “fruit of the poisonous tree” line of argument? I have no idea.

The Presumption against Extraterritoriality has long been a part of US law, here’s a link to an article about it: http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1170&context=bjil

Lots of acts of congress have been invalidated if the SC determines that they didn’t have the authority to implement the act in the first place. This is so common I’m not sure what you’re incredulous about, and the link above includes cases where laws were overturned.

It seems to me that any state can leave with permission from the federal government. But should the Supreme Court rule that the annexation was valid, making their joining the union invalid, and making the presidency of Obama invalid, then you’ve got a right big mess on your hands. So it won’t happen because it can’t.