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Metro East county considers joining Missouri. Illinois AG says no

JEFFERSON CITY — An Illinois county’s quest to secede and join Missouri won’t be happening any time soon, according to a new legal opinion.

In response to a question raised by an official in Jersey County, located across the Mississippi River from Missouri, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said the county does not have “the authority to secede from the State of Illinois and join another state.”

Writing in an Oct. 17 opinion, Raoul said the state constitution does not provide a statutory procedure for the secession of counties from the state.

And, he added, there are federal issues that stand in the way too.

“A state’s sovereignty over its territory is fundamental to our federal system and is a principle found throughout the text of the United States Constitution,” he wrote in a 10-page letter to Jersey County State’s Attorney Benjamin Goetten.

Jersey County, along with others in downstate Illinois, have been investigating ways to break the state into two pieces, with Democrat-leaning areas in the Chicago region becoming one state, and Republican-dominated areas in downstate Illinois becoming another.

Located north of St. Louis, Jersey County has 21,500 residents. It includes the towns of Elsah and Grafton. The county seat is Jerseyville.

Cars drive along East Main Street in Grafton, Ill. on Friday, April 1, 2022. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.comColter Peterson

Talk of breaking up states has become more common among Republicans after President Joe Biden won Illinois’ electoral votes over former President Donald Trump in 2020, despite only 13 of the state’s 102 counties voting Democratic.

Similar discussions have been underway in Oregon, where residents in the rural eastern part of the state don’t like the urban leanings of the Portland area and have sought to join Idaho.

In California, San Bernardino County, located east of Los Angeles, also has studied the possibility of secession.

Like the Illinois effort, such a change would entail more than just a county wanting to join a different state. Along with needing buy-in from the state legislature, Congress also would have to act.

No new states have been created since Hawaii in 1959.

The request from Jersey County came after a county board member, Eric Ivers, raised the possibility, the Jacksonville (Ill.) Courier-Journal reported.

The proposal was tabled and board chairman Donald Little said the idea had no path forward, the newspaper reported.

“I don’t think it’s a practical idea nor do I think there is a practical process of doing it,” Little said.

Goetten, the state’s attorney, said Thursday he told members of the board that secession was a non-starter, but was asked nonetheless to ask for a formal opinion from the state.

“While I would have preferred my name not be on this opinion, I was directed that the request had to be made by the state’s attorney. In an effort to ‘put it to bed’ so to speak, the board chairman asked that I make the request,” Goetten said. 

He added that none of the members of the current county board were part of the request to secede.

At least two dozen Illinois counties, primarily concentrated in the southeastern portion of the state, have passed “separation referendums” dating to 2020.

But Raoul, a Democrat and former state senator from Chicago, said in his opinion that the effort is doomed to fail under state law.

“(A)ny referendum on the issue of county secession would have no binding effect,” he wrote.

Goetten said he agrees with Raoul’s assessment.

“(T)hose Jersey County residents who actually enjoy being Illinoisans can rest assured that they will awake as Illinoisans tomorrow and into the near future,” Goetten said. 

Source : ST. Louis Post-Dispatch