Why Cook County Can't Leave Illinois

Even if Cook County wanted to become its own state, as state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, is urging us to do, could we just up and leave Illinois?

Probably not. According to Article IV, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, calving off a new state is a complicated process that requires the assent of the state legislature and of Congress:

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

Even if the Illinois legislature approved the split -- unlikely, since Mitchell and Rep. Adam Brown of Decatur are the only sponsors -- Republicans in Congress might not want a 51st state that would elect two Democratic senators in perpetuity.

Mitchell has suggested that Cook County could exist as a non-state, like the District of Columbia. But the District of Columbia was created by a Constitutional Act, in Article I, Section 8, and was granted voting rights by the 23rd Amendment.

The Constitution requires that members of the House of Representatives be elected from “the several states,” so making Cook County a non-state would disenfranchise over 5 million American citizens. It would also make a political orphan of the President of the United States.

Twice in American history, states have separated from their mother states. Both times, it happened in the 19th Century, and both times, the politics of slavery were involved. In 1820, Maine voted to secede from Massachusetts. It was allowed to become a new state as part of the Missouri Compromise, which required a balance of free and slave states in the union. And of course, the western counties of Virginia formed the new state of West Virginia during the Civil War, in order to remain part of the United States.

Since there’s no such political advantage to dividing Illinois, Mitchell will just have to learn to live in the same state as Chicago. Or, he can move to Indiana, the low-tax, fiscally responsible state he says Illinois would resemble if it got rid of Cook County.   

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