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State
Also known as:
Commonwealth
(the self-designation of four states)
Map of USA States with names white.svg
CategoryFederated state
LocationUnited States
Number50
PopulationsSmallest: Wyoming, 578,759
Largest: California, 39,512,223[1]
AreasSmallest: Rhode Island, 1,545 square miles (4,000 km2)
Largest: Alaska, 665,384 square miles (1,723,340 km2)[2]
GovernmentState government
SubdivisionsCounty (or equivalent)

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside.[3] State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders (such as paroled convicts and children of divorced spouses who are sharing custody).

State governments are allocated power by the people (of each respective state) through their individual constitutions. All are grounded in republican principles, and each provides for a government, consisting of three branches, each with separate and independent powers: executive, legislative, and judicial.[4] States are divided into counties or county-equivalents, which may be assigned some local governmental authority but are not sovereign. County or county-equivalent structure varies widely by state, and states also create other local governments.

States, unlike U.S. territories, possess a number of powers and rights under the United States Constitution. States and their citizens are represented in the United States Congress, a bicameral legislature consisting of the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside.[3] State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders (such as paroled convicts and children of divorced spouses who are sharing custody).

State governments are allocated power by the people (of each respective state) through their individual constitutions. All are grounded in republican principles, and each provides for a government, consisting of three branches, each with separate and independent powers: executive, legislative, and judicial.[4] States are divided into counties or county-equivalents, which may be assigned some local governmental authority but are not sovereign. County or county-equivalent structure varies widely by state, and states also create other local governments.

States, unlike U.S. territories, possess a number of powers and rights under the United States Constitution. States and their citizens are represented in the United States Congress, a bicameral legislature consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Each state is also entitled to select a number of electors (equal to the total number of representatives and senators from that state) to vote in the Electoral College, the body that directly elects the President of the United States. Additionally, each state has the opportunity to ratify constitutional amendments, and, with the consent of Congress, two or more states may enter into interstate compacts with one another. The police power of each state is also recognized.

Historically, the tasks of local law enf

State governments are allocated power by the people (of each respective state) through their individual constitutions. All are grounded in republican principles, and each provides for a government, consisting of three branches, each with separate and independent powers: executive, legislative, and judicial.[4] States are divided into counties or county-equivalents, which may be assigned some local governmental authority but are not sovereign. County or county-equivalent structure varies widely by state, and states also create other local governments.

States, unlike U.S. territories, possess a number of powers and rights under the United States Constitution. States and their citizens are represented in the United States Congress, a bicameral legislature consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Each state is also entitled to select a number of electors (equal to the total number of representatives and senators from that state) to vote in the Electoral College, the body that directly elects the President of the United States. Additionally, each state has the opportunity to ratify constitutional amendments, and, with the consent of Congress, two or more states may enter into interstate compacts with one another. The police power of each state is also recognized.

Historically, the tasks of local law enforcement, public education, public health, regulating intrastate commerce, and local transportation and infrastructure have generally been considered primarily state responsibilities, although all of these now have significant federal funding and regulation as well. Over time, the Constitution has been amended, and the interpretation and application of its provisions have changed. The general tendency has been toward centralization and incorporation, with the federal government playing a much larger role than it once did. There is a continuing debate over states' rights, which concerns the extent and nature of the states' powers and sovereignty in relation to the federal government and the rights of individuals.

The Constitution grants to Congress the authority to admit new states into the Union. Since the establishment of the United States in 1776 by Thirteen British Colonies, the number of states has expanded from the original 13 to 50. Each new state has been admitted on an equal footing with the existing states.[5] The Constitution is silent on the question of whether states have the power to secede (withdraw) from the Union. Shortly after the Civil War, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Texas v. White, held that a state cannot unilaterally do so.[6][7]

The 50 U.S. states, in alphabetical order, along with each state's flag:

Background

The 13 original states came into existence in July 1776 during the American Revolutionary War, as the successors of the Thirteen Colonies, upon agreeing to the Lee Resolution[8] and signing the United States Declaration of Independence.[9] Prior to these events each state had been a British colony;[8] each then joined the first Union of states between 1777 and 1781, upon ratifying the Articles of Confederation, the first U.S. constitution.[10][11] Also during this period, the newly independent states developed their own individual state constitutions, among the earliest written constitutions in the world.[12] Although different in detail, these state constitutions shared features that would be important in the American constitutional order: they were republican in form, and separated power among three branches, most had bicameral legislatures, and contained statements of, or a bill of rights.[13] Later, from 1787 to 1790, each of the states also ratified a new federal frame of government in the Constitution of the United States.[14] In relation to the states, the U.S. Constitution elaborated concepts of federalism.[15]

Governments

States are not mere administrative divisions of the United States, as their powers and responsibilities are not assigned to them from above by federal legislation or federal administrative action or the federal Constitution.[citation needed] Consequently, each of the 50 states reserves the right to organize its individual government in any way (within the broad parameters set by the U.S. Constitution) deemed appropriate by its people, and to exercise all powers of government not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution.[16] A state, unlike the federal government, has un-enumerated police power, that is the right to generally make all necessary laws for the welfare of its people.[17] As a result, while the governments of the various states share many similar features, they often vary greatly with regard to form and substance. No two state governments are identical.

Constitutions

The government of each state is structured in accordance with its individual constitution. Many of these documents are more detailed and more elaborate than their federal counterpart. The Constitution of Alabama, for example, contains 310,296 words – more than 40 times as many as the U.S. Constitution.[18] In practice, each state has adopted a three-branch frame of government: executive, legislative, and judicial (even though doing so has never been required).[18][19]

Early on in American history four state governments differentiated themselves from the others in their first constitutions by choosing to self-identify as commonwealths rather than as states: Virginia, in 1776;[20] Pennsylvania, in 1777; Massachusetts, in 1780; and Kentucky, in 1792. Consequently, while these four are states like the other states, each is formally a commonwealth because the term is contained in its constitution.[21] The term, commonwealth, which refers to a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people, was first used in Virginia during the Interregnum, the 1649–60 period between the reigns of Charles I and Charles II during which parliament's Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector established a republican government known as the Commonwealth of England. Virginia became a royal colony again in 1660, and the word was dropped from the full title; it went unused until reintroduced in 1776.[20]

Executive

In each state, the chief executive is called the governor, who serves as both head of state and head of government. All governors are chosen by direct election. The governor may approve or veto bills passed by the state legislature, as well as recommend and work for the passage of bills, usually supported by their political party. In 44 states, governors have line item veto power.[22] Most states have a plural executive, meaning that the governor is not the only government official in the state responsible for its executive branch. In these states, executive power is distributed amongst other officials,[23] elected by the people independently of the governor—such as the lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, secretary of state, and others.

The constitutions of 19 states allow for citizens to remove and replace an elected public official before the end of their term of office through a recall election.[24] Each state follows its own procedures for recall elections, and sets its own restrictions on how often, and how soon after a general election, they may be held. In all states, the legislatures can remove state executive branch officials, including governors, who have committed serious abuses of their power from office. The process of doing so includes impeachment (the bringing of specific charges), and a trial, in which legislators act as a jury.[24]

Legislative

The primary responsibilities of state legislatures are to enact state laws and appropriate money for the administration of public policy.[22] In all states, if the governor vetoes a bill (or a portion of one), it can still become law if the legislature overrides the veto (repasses the bill), which in most states requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber.[22] In 49 of the 50 states the legislature consists of two chambers: a lower house (variously called, the House of Representatives, State Assembly, General Assembly or House of Delegates) and a smaller upper house, in all states called, the Senate. The exception is the unicameral Nebraska Legislature, which has only a single chamber.[25] Most states have a part-time legislature (traditionally called a citizen legislature). Ten state legislatures are considered full-time; these bodies are more similar to the U.S. Congress than are the others.[26]

Members of each state's legislature are chosen by direct election. In Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court held that all states are required to elect their legislatures in such a way as to afford each citizen the same degree of representation (the one person, one vote standard). In practice, most states elect legislators from single-member districts, each of which has approximately the same population. Some states, such as Maryland and Vermont, divide the state into single- and multi-member districts, in which case multi-member districts must have proportionately larger populations, e.g., a district electing two representatives must have approximately twice the population of a district electing just one. The voting systems used across the nation are: first-past-the-post in single-member districts, and multiple non-transferable vote in multi-member districts.

In 2013, there were a total of 7,383 legislators in the 50 state legislative bodies. They earned from $0 annually (New Mexico) to $90,526 (California). There were various per diem and mileage compensation.[27]

Judicial

States can also organize their judicial systems differently from the federal judiciary, as long as they protect the federal constitutional right of their citizens to procedural due process. Most have a trial level court, generally called a District Court, Superior Court or Circuit Court, a first-level appellate court, generally called a Court of Appeal (or Appeals), and a Supreme Court. However, Oklahoma and Texas have separate highest courts for criminal appeals. In New York State the trial court is called the Supreme Court; appeals are then taken to the Supreme Court's Appellate Division, and from there to the Court of Appeals.

State court systems provide general courts with broad jurisdiction. The overwhelming majority of criminal and civil cases in the United States are heard in state courts. The annual number of cases filed in state courts are around 30,000,000 and the number of judges in state courts is about 30,000—by comparison, federal courts see some 1,000,000 filed cases with about 1700 judges.[28]

Most states base their legal system on English common law (with substantial indigenous changes and incorporation of certain civil law innovations), with the notable exception of Louisiana, a former French colony, which draws large parts of its legal system from French civil law.

Only a few states choose to have the judges on the state's courts serve for life terms. In most of the states the judges, including the justices of the highest court in the state, are either elected or appointed for terms of a limited number of years, and are usually eligible for re-election or reappointment.

States as unitary systems

All states are unitary governments, not federations or aggregates of local governments. Local governments within them are created by and exist by virtue of state law, and local governments within each state are subject to the central authority of that particular state. State governments commonly delegate some authority to local units and channel policy decisions down to them for implementation.[29] In a few states, local units of government are permitted a degree of home rule over various matters. The prevailing legal theory of state preeminence over local governments, referred to as Dillon's Rule, holds that,

A municipal corporation possesses and can exercise the following powers and no others: First, those granted in express words; second, those necessarily implied or necessarily incident to the powers expressly granted; third, those absolutely essential to the declared objects and purposes of the corporation—not simply convenient but indispensable; fourth, any fair doubt as to the existence of a power is resolved by the courts against the corporation—against the existence of the powers.[30]

Each state defines for itself what powers it will allow local governments. Generally, four categories of power may be given to local jurisdictions:

  • Structural – power to choose the form of government, charter and enact charter revisions,
  • Functional – power to exercise local self government in a broad or limited manner,
  • Fiscal – author

    The 13 original states came into existence in July 1776 during the American Revolutionary War, as the successors of the Thirteen Colonies, upon agreeing to the Lee Resolution[8] and signing the United States Declaration of Independence.[9] Prior to these events each state had been a British colony;[8] each then joined the first Union of states between 1777 and 1781, upon ratifying the Articles of Confederation, the first U.S. constitution.[10][11] Also during this period, the newly independent states developed their own individual state constitutions, among the earliest written constitutions in the world.[12] Although different in detail, these state constitutions shared features that would be important in the American constitutional order: they were republican in form, and separated power among three branches, most had bicameral legislatures, and contained statements of, or a bill of rights.[13] Later, from 1787 to 1790, each of the states also ratified a new federal frame of government in the Constitution of the United States.[14] In relation to the states, the U.S. Constitution elaborated concepts of federalism.[15]

    Governments

    States are not mere administrative divisions of the United States, as their powers and responsibilities are not assigned to them from above by federal legislation or federal administrative action or the federal Constitution.[citation needed] Consequently, each of the 50 states reserves the right to organize its individual government in any way (within the broad parameters set by the U.S. Constitution) deemed appropriate by its people, and to exercise all powers of government not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution.[16] A state, unlike the federal government, has un-enumerated police power, that is the right to generally make all necessary laws for the welfare of its people.[17] As a result, while the governments of the various states share many similar features, they often vary greatly with regard to form and substance. No two state governments are identical.

    Constitutions

    The government of each state is structured in accordance with its individual constitution. Many of these documents are more detailed and more elaborate than their federal counterpart. The Constitution of Alabama, for example, contains 310,296 words – more than 40 times as many as the U.S. Constitution.[18] In practice, each state has adopted a three-branch frame of government: executive, legislative, and judicial (even though doing so has never been required).[18][19]

    Early on in American history four state governments differentiated themselves from the others in their first constitutions by choosing to self-identify as commonwealths rather than as states: Virginia, in 1776;[20] Pennsylvania, in 1777; Massachusetts, in 1780; and Kentucky, in 1792. Consequently, while these four are states like the other states, each is formally a commonwealth because the term is contained in its constitution.[21] The term, commonwealth, which refers to a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people, was first used in Virginia during the Interregnum, the 1649–60 period between the reigns of Charles I and Charles II during which parliament's Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector established a republican government known as the Commonwealth of England. Virginia became a royal colony again in 1660, and the word was dropped from the full title; it went unused until reintroduced in 1776.[20]

    Executive

    In each state, the chief executive is called the governor, who serves as both head of state and head of government. All governors are chosen by direct election. The governor may approve or veto bills passed by the state legislature, as well as recommend and work for the passage of bills, usually supported by their political party. In 44 states, governors have line item veto power.[22] Most states have a plural executive, meaning that the governor is not the only government official in the state responsible for its executive branch. In these states, executive power is distributed amongst other officials,[23] elected by the people independently of the governor—such as the lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, secretary of state, and others.

    The constitutions of 19 states allow for citizens to remove and replace an elected public official before the end of their term of office through a recall election.[24] Each state follows its own procedures for recall elections, and sets its own restrictions on how often, and how soon after a general election, they may be held. In all states, the legislatures can remove state executive branch officials, including governors, who have committed serious abuses of their power from office. The process of doing so includes impeachment (the bringing of specific charges), and a trial, in which legislators act as a jury.[24]

    Legislative

    The primary responsibilities of state legislatures are to enact state laws and appropriate money for the administration of public policy.[22] In all states, if the governor vetoes a bill (or a portion of one), it can still become law if the legislature overrides the veto (repasses the bill), which in most states requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber.[22] In 49 of the 50 states the legislature consists of two chambers: a lower house (variously called, the House of Representatives, State Assembly, General Assembly or House of Delegates) and a smaller upper house, in all states called, the Senate. The exception is the unicameral Nebraska Legislature, which has only a single chamber.[25] Most states have a part-time legislature (traditionally called a citizen legislature). Ten state legislatures are considered Constitution of Alabama, for example, contains 310,296 words – more than 40 times as many as the U.S. Constitution.[18] In practice, each state has adopted a three-branch frame of government: executive, legislative, and judicial (even though doing so has never been required).[18][19]

    Early on in American history four state governments differentiated themse

    Early on in American history four state governments differentiated themselves from the others in their first constitutions by choosing to self-identify as commonwealths rather than as states: Virginia, in 1776;[20] Pennsylvania, in 1777; Massachusetts, in 1780; and Kentucky, in 1792. Consequently, while these four are states like the other states, each is formally a commonwealth because the term is contained in its constitution.[21] The term, commonwealth, which refers to a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people, was first used in Virginia during the Interregnum, the 1649–60 period between the reigns of Charles I and Charles II during which parliament's Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector established a republican government known as the Commonwealth of England. Virginia became a royal colony again in 1660, and the word was dropped from the full title; it went unused until reintroduced in 1776.[20]

    In each state, the chief executive is called the governor, who serves as both head of state and head of government. All governors are chosen by direct election. The governor may approve or veto bills passed by the state legislature, as well as recommend and work for the passage of bills, usually supported by their political party. In 44 states, governors have line item veto power.[22] Most states have a plural executive, meaning that the governor is not the only government official in the state responsible for its executive branch. In these states, executive power is distributed amongst other officials,[23] elected by the people independently of the governor—such as the lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, secretary of state, and others.

    The constitutions of 19 states allow for citizens to remove and replace an elected public official before the end of their term of office through a recall election.recall election.[24] Each state follows its own procedures for recall elections, and sets its own restrictions on how often, and how soon after a general election, they may be held. In all states, the legislatures can remove state executive branch officials, including governors, who have committed serious abuses of their power from office. The process of doing so includes impeachment (the bringing of specific charges), and a trial, in which legislators act as a jury.[24]

    The primary responsibilities of state legislatures are to enact state laws and appropriate money for the administration of public policy.[22] In all states, if the governor vetoes a bill (or a portion of one), it can still become law if the legislature overrides the veto (repasses the bill), which in most states requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber.[22] In 49 of the 50 states the legislature consists of two chambers: a lower house (variously called, the House of Representatives, State Assembly, General Assembly or House of Delegates) and a smaller upper house, in all states called, the Senate. The exception is the unicameral Nebraska Legislature, which has only a single chamber.[25] Most states have a part-time legislature (traditionally called a citizen legislature). Ten state legislatures are considered full-time; these bodies are more similar to the U.S. Congress than are the others.[26]

    Members of each state's legislature are chosen by direct election. In Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court held that

    Members of each state's legislature are chosen by direct election. In Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court held that all states are required to elect their legislatures in such a way as to afford each citizen the same degree of representation (the one person, one vote standard). In practice, most states elect legislators from single-member districts, each of which has approximately the same population. Some states, such as Maryland and Vermont, divide the state into single- and multi-member districts, in which case multi-member districts must have proportionately larger populations, e.g., a district electing two representatives must have approximately twice the population of a district electing just one. The voting systems used across the nation are: first-past-the-post in single-member districts, and multiple non-transferable vote in multi-member districts.

    In 2013, there were a total of 7,383 legislators in the 50 state legislative bodies. They earned from $0 annually (New Mexico) to $90,526 (California). There were various per diem and mileage compensation.[27]

    States can also organize their judicial systems differently from the federal judiciary, as long as they protect the federal constitutional right of their citizens to procedural due process. Most have a trial level court, generally called a District Court, Superior Court or Circuit Court, a first-level appellate court, generally called a Court of Appeal (or Appeals), and a Supreme Court. However, Oklahoma and Texas have separate highest courts for criminal appeals. In New York State the trial court is called the Supreme Court; appeals are then taken to the Supreme Court's Appellate Division, and from there to the Court of Appeals.

    State court systems provide general courts with broad jurisdiction. The overwhelming majority of criminal and civil cases in the United States are heard in state courts. The annual number of cases filed in state courts are around 30,000,000 and the number of

    State court systems provide general courts with broad jurisdiction. The overwhelming majority of criminal and civil cases in the United States are heard in state courts. The annual number of cases filed in state courts are around 30,000,000 and the number of judges in state courts is about 30,000—by comparison, federal courts see some 1,000,000 filed cases with about 1700 judges.[28]

    Most states base their legal system on English common law (with substantial indigenous changes and incorporation of certain civil law innovations), with the notable exception of Louisiana, a former French colony, which draws large parts of its legal system from French civil law.

    Only a few states choose to have the judges on the state's courts serve for life terms. In most of the states the judges, including the justices of the highest court in the state, are either elected or appointed for terms of a limited number of years, and are usually eligible for re-election or reappointment.

    All states are unitary governments, not federations or aggregates of local governments. Local governments within them are created by and exist by virtue of state law, and local governments within each state are subject to the central authority of that particular state. State governments commonly delegate some authority to local units and channel policy decisions down to them for implementation.[29] In a few states, local units of government are permitted a degree of home rule over various matters. The prevailing legal theory of state preeminence over local governments, referred to as Dillon's Rule, holds that,