Voting Rights, Home Rule, and Metropolitan Governance: The Secession of Staten Island as a Case Study in the Dilemmas of Local Self-Determination

Briffault, Richard

For legal scholars, the Staten Island secession raises a number of difficult disputes-disputes that nicely illustrate several dilemmas at the very heart of the notion of local self-government: What is a proper unit of local self-government, and how is that to be determined when two local governments quarrel over the same territory? What is the scope of home rule in the determination of local boundary questions? What is the appropriate structure of governance in metropolitan areas? This Article explores these issues. Part I traces the historical, political, and legal background to the current Staten Island secession dispute. Parts II and III consider the process of secession. As will be seen in Part II, the resolution of the referendum voting question requires a determination of what is the proper unit for local self-determination; yet the voting rights issue has arisen precisely be- cause the proper unit of local self-determination is in dispute. Part III will examine the effect of the state constitutional provision for local home rule on secession. Finally, Part IV considers the question of secession from the perspective of contemporary debates over the proper political organization of metropolitan areas.


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September 16, 2016