New Hampshire has three branches of government. The Legislative Branch, know as the General Court, is composed of the state senators and representatives; the Executive Branch includes the Governor, Executive Councilors and State Agencies; and the Judicial Branch is made up of the courts. Each branch of government is separate from the others yet has some control over and is controlled by the other two. This is known as a system of checks and balances. All three branches derived their powers from the State’s Constitution and the Constitution is controlled by the people of the state.
The Legislative Branch is also known as the General Court of New Hampshire. It consists of two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate. There are 400 Representatives and 24 Senators, making the General Court the second largest legislature in the United States following the U.S. Congress. It is said that only the U.S. congress and the English and Indian Parliaments are larger.
Representatives and Senators write and pass the laws of the state. In New Hampshire, members of the General Court are elected every two years, meeting in annual sessions beginning in January of each year. New Hampshire takes pride in its Citizen Legislature, so called because members to the General Court are not professional politicians, but come from a variety of occupations. Professions of members include the self-employed, retired, homemakers, students, and lawyers. For their time and effort they are paid $200 per term plus milage costs. Because of their added duties, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President receive $250 per term.
Visit the General Court’s web site at www.gencourt.state.nh.us. The legislative process is detailed in How a Bill Becomes a Law.
The Executive Branch consists of the Governor, Executive Councilors, and state agencies. This branch enacts and enforces the laws of the state.
The Governor is the supreme executive and shall be called His or Her Excellency. According to our the state’s constitution, the Governor is responsible for the faithful execution of the law. This responsibility is met with the assistance of the Executive Council and state agencies. New Hampshire is unique because of the five member Executive Council who work with, advise and share the governor’s responsibilities. The Governor nominates and the Council and Governor appoint people to fill positions of agency directors and commissioners, judges and the Attorney General. The Governor and Executive Council are responsible for awarding state contracts. Either one shall have a Either one shall have a negative on the other, allowing the Council to veto the Governor’s actions. While a few other state have Executive Councils (Massachusetts for example), they exist in an advisory capacity only. In New Hampshire, the Executive Council has a strong check on the Governor’s power. Both the Governor and Councilors are elected to two year terms.
State agencies work under the direction of the Governor. The heads of the agencies are appointed by the Governor and Council but because of their terms of office, they may work under a different Governor and Council than the one that appointed them. The functions of the agencies are defined by the laws passed by the legislature and by executive order of the Governor. The responsibilities of state agencies include public health and safety, education, cultural affairs, environmental protection and economic development. Agencies promulgate rules to assist them in carrying out their duties. The rules have the force of law.
Visit the Governor’s web site at www.governor.nh.gov and the Executive Council’s web site at www.nh.gov/council.
The Judicial Branch is the court system of the state. The courts interpret the laws passed by the legislature. The courts make decisions regarding what the law means and how it should be applied.
There are four courts in the New Hampshire judicial system. The Supreme Court is the highest and final court in the state. This is where final appeals of decisions made in lower courts are heard. Superior Court is at the county level. Here is where jury trials are held. Superior Court hears cases of general jurisdiction which includes serious crimes, lawsuits of more than $20,000 and cases involving real estate or divorce. District Courts have jurisdiction over smaller lawsuits and some criminal cases. Within the District Court system are small claims courts if it does not exceed $2500. Probate Court jurisdiction includes wills, estates and guardianship issues.
Judges at all levels are nominated by the Governor and appointed by Governor and Council. They serve until they retire, reach the age of 70 or are removed for good cause. In this manner, a judge has tenure and does not owe allegiance to the Governor and Council of appointment.
Visit the web site for the judicial branch of government at www.courts.state.nh.us/.
Detailed information about New Hampshire and the democratic process can be found in the following titles:
Anderson, Leon W. Three Hundred Years: New Hampshire’s Legislature of, for and by the People March 16, 160-1980. 1980
A history of New Hampshire’s General Court from the first Provincial Government established in 1680.
_____. Three Hundred Years: New Hampshire's Unique Governor-Council Government January 21, 1680-1980, 1980.
A history of the chief executive and executive council from the establishment of New Hampshire’s Provincial Government.
Clement, John. New Hampshire Facts. 1987
A single volume encyclopedia of facts and statistics about New Hampshire.
New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated. 1955-
The laws of the state of New Hampshire.
New Hampshire Secretary of State. New Hampshire Constitution
The Constitution of the State of New Hampshire, passed in 1783 and subsequently amended.
Rosal, Lorenca Consuelo. Eternal Vigilance: The Story of the New Hampshire Constitution. 1986.
Classroom materials developed to explore the history and principles of the New Hampshire Constitution.
_____. God Save the People: New Hampshire History. 1988
A history of New Hampshire’s government and constitution.
_____. Liberty Key: The Story of the New Hampshire Constitution. 1986
A history of New Hampshire’s constitution and government it established. Intended for primary grades.
_____. You and Your New Hampshire Courts: Your Third Branch of Government. 1984
A brief overview of New Hampshire’s judicial system.
Contact your local library for locations of these titles.
The New Hampshire Almanac is compiled by the New Hampshire State Library from state statutes and other sources as noted.