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.
The legislative process is detailed in How a Bill Becomes a Law.
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 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.
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.
Detailed information about New Hampshire and the democratic process can be found in the following titles:
The New Hampshire Almanac is compiled by the New Hampshire State Library from state statutes and other sources as noted.
NH.gov - The Official Web Portal of the State of New Hampshire