State governments of the United States
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Structured in accordance with state law (including state constitutions and state statutes), most state governments are modeled on the federal system, with three branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial.
The governments of the 13 colonies that formed the original union under the Constitution trace their history back to the royal charters which established them during the year of colonialism. Most other states were organized as federal territories or parts of other states before forming their governments and requesting admittance into the union. Notable exceptions are California, Vermont, Texas and Hawaii, which were sovereign nations before joining the union.
In the majority of states (26), the state legislature is simply called the "Legislature." Another 19 states call their legislature the "General Assembly". Two states (Oregon and North Dakota) use the term "Legislative Assembly", while another two (Massachusetts and New Hampshire) use the term "General Court".
In the 49 bicameral legislatures, the upper house is called the "Senate".
Until 1964, state senators were generally elected from districts that were not necessarily equal in population. In some cases state senate districts were based partly on county lines; in the vast majority of states the senate districts provided proportionately greater representation to rural areas. However, in the 1964 decision Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, unlike the United States Senate, state senates must be elected from districts of approximately equal population.
In 41 of the 49 bicameral state legislatures, the lower house is called the "House of Representatives". The name "House of Delegates" is used in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. California and Wisconsin call their lower house the "State Assembly", while Nevada and New York simply call the lower house the "Assembly". New Jersey calls its lower house the "General Assembly".
The executive branch of every state is headed by an elected Governor. Most states have a plural executive, in which several key members of the executive branch are directly elected by the people and serve alongside the governor. These include the offices of lieutenant governor (often on a joint ticket with the governor) and attorney general, secretary of state, auditors (or comptrollers or controllers), treasurer, commissioner of agriculture, and commissioner of education.
Each state government is free to organize its executive departments and agencies in any way it likes. This has resulted in substantial diversity among the states with regard to every aspect of how their governments are organized.
The judicial branch in most states is topped by a court of last resort usually called a supreme court that hears appeals from lower state courts. Oddly, New York's highest court is called the Court of Appeals, while its trial court is known as the Supreme Court. Maryland also calls its highest court the Court of Appeals. Texas and Oklahoma each separate courts of last resort for civil and criminal appeals. Each state's court has the last word on issues of state law and can only be overruled by federal courts on issues of federal law.
The structure of courts and the methods of selecting judges is determined by each state's constitution or legislature. Most states have at least one trial-level court and an intermediate appeals court from which only some cases are appealed to the highest court.
In order to complete their duties states form a variety of offices with particular assignments designated by the various branches. These offices may include:
- Office of the Governor
- Office of the Lieutenant Governor
- Office of the State Attorney General
- Banking department
- State office of financial management
- State department of agriculture and markets
- State department of civil service
- State department of correctional services
- State department of economic development
- State department of environment conservation
- State department of health
- State department of insurance
- State department of labor
- State department of motor vehicles
- State department of state
- State department of taxation and finance
- State department of transportation
- State division of criminal justice services
- State division of housing and community renewal
- State division of military and naval affairs
- State division of the budget
- State division of veterans' affairs
- State polices
- State education departments
- State emergency management office
Each state has an official seal.
- Local government in the United States
- Federal government of the United States
- Comparison of state governments
- Article Four of the United States Constitution