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Thursday, November 2, 2023

Illinois County Has No Authority to Secede from Illinois According to the Attorney General

The Illinois Attorney General doesn't issue very many general opinions (separate from the PAC opinions) but a recent opinion is worth a read as it involves an unusual issue - a county's secession from one state to an adjoining state.

At the request of the Jerseyville County Board, the County States Attorney requested an opinion from the Illinois Attorney General (AG) as to whether an Illinois county could secede from the State of Illinois and join the State of Missouri. According to the AG's opinion, the issue had arisen in connection with a discussion by the County Board about the placement of a referendum on the ballot to shift the border between Illinois and Missouri in order to relocate the Jerseyville County to the Missouri side.

The AG first reviewed the Illinois Constitution in connection with a county's non-home rule authority. While the AG acknowledged that the Illinois Constitution contains provisions for relocation of county borders, the AG found nothing that would authorize the relocation of county borders across state lines. Similarly, while the Counties Code discusses the transfer of territory between counties, those provisions relate to the transfer of territory within Illinois. The AG also found no authority in the Election Code to allow a county to secede from Illinois by referendum. Finally, the AG noted that secession could implicate various federal laws and the U.S. Constitution. 

In sum, the AG concluded that a non-home rule county does not have the authority to secede from Illinois in order to join Missouri. Ill. Att'y Op. 23-001.


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