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Friday, February 6, 2015

Why cities are sometimes granted secession

Residents of towns who successfully incorporate a new town effectively secede from the original  town or jurisdiction. This has happened numerous times in American history, and is made possible via legislative acts recognizing geographical areas that were once part of a city or town as no longer being such. Residents of those towns subsequently become residents of the new legal jurisdiction. An example of secession is Catnip Island's secession from the City of Portland as authorized by the State of Maine and St. Louis' secession form St. Louis County.

Urban secession
St. Louis Missouri seceded from St. Louis County in 1877


The underlying rights that allow residents to secede from a town are clear, but not unlimited. According to essays in the Urban Affairs Review and the Yale Journal of International Law, the principles of home-rule and self-determination grant people a collective right to autonomy. However, at the same time, competing rights of self-preservation by existing jurisdictions and states conflicts with the first right. To illustrate, according to the Urban Affairs Review, Staten Island attempted to secede from New York City in the 1990s, however this was denied by the State Court of Appeals on reasons other than home-rule.


Residents are also believed to have a right to secede from a town based on the fact individuals have free-will. This free will is a mandate of the will of the people when a substantial amount of people express a similar wish to secede from a town. This is made evident in a report in the Journal of Libertarian Studies. Specifically, any size of population is able to secede because many nations smaller than New York City have attempted to do just that following the premise of autonomous-will. Moreover, several independent states including Monaco, Barbados, and St. Kitts are examples of such.


Laws prevent towns-people from making a viable and credible claim for secession. A well-defined example of this is the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Texas v. White. Moreover, in the ruling it is determined that states, and municipal entities within that state, have “constitutional obligations” that must be fulfilled prior to, or regardless of intent to secede. A similar concept of non-unilateral secession is echoed in International law as evident in Allen Buchanan's book “Justice, Legitimacy and Self-Determination.” However, if no reasonable and fair separation process exists within a legal framework, then the legitimacy of that framework is questionable under the rights and mandates described above. 


Another factor that serves to create an entry barrier to residential secession is politics. The influencing of people via rhetoric, patronage, coercion and manipulation is political in nature. These methods also serve to dissuade, threaten, and discourage any group of autonomous individuals with a collective will to secede from a town, from doing so. Moreover, so long as political devices used fall within the boundaries of the township laws from which a group seeks to secede, and the state in which secession is sought, those mechanisms hold some legitimacy.

Image: Fetchcomms, "Aerial view of St. Louis, Missouri", CC BY 2.0