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If at first you don't secede...

From NBC's Pete Williams
Suppose you're writing a screenplay and your premise is that one of the 50 states wants to secede from the union. You assume that the legal battle will end with a dramatic showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court, but you don't know much about how that would work. Who do you ask for advice?

How about the justices, themselves?

We're learning now that a screenwriter tried that very thing, and to his great surprise, one of them actually answered -- Antonin Scalia.

"There is no right to secede," he replied.

The issue is getting traction now in the blogosphere, with some followers of the Tea Party movement suggesting it would be a way out of their frustration with the federal government. Professor Eugene Volokh of the UCLA School of Law weighed in on the controversy recently on his blog.

But in 2006, it was an idea explored strictly for laughs, by a screenwriter named Dan Turkewitz, who was working on a movie comedy in which Maine tries to leave the union and become part of Canada. He wrote to all nine sitting justices, and to retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Turkewitz's brother, Eric, a New York personal injury lawyer, writes on his blog that such an effort was bound to go nowhere.

"I told Dan he was nuts," Eric Turkewitz writes. "I told him his letter would be placed in the circular file."

But Justice Scalia did reply. In a brief letter, he wrote, "If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede. (Hence, in the Pledge of Allegiance, "One Nation, indivisible.")

"Secondly, I find it difficult to envision who the parties to this lawsuit might be," Scalia wrote. "Is the State suing the United States for declaratory judgment? But the United States cannot be sued without its consent, and it has not consented to this sort of a suit.

"I am sure that poetic license can overcome all that -- but you do not need legal advice for that. Good luck with your screenplay," Scalia concluded.