The powers of a state government in the United States are defined in the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that any powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people. State governments have the power to regulate issues that affect the day-to-day lives of citizens, such as education, health care, and public safety.
State governments have a broad range of powers that include the power to establish and maintain local government, the power to regulate commerce within the state, the power to tax and spend money, the power to regulate the use of land and natural resources within the state’s boundaries, and the power to create and enforce state laws.
Like the federal government, the state government comprises three branches, the legislative, executive, and judicial. Each branch works like the federal version, except that the state government only has the power to regulate within its boundaries. In contrast, federal branches make laws that affect the whole country.
The State Legislative Branch
A state legislative is responsible for making laws that govern the state. The powers of a state legislative vary depending on the state but generally include the authority to:
- Enact laws and regulations that govern the state
- Approve the state budget and appropriate funds for state programs and services
- Oversee state agencies and their administration of state laws and regulations
- Represent the interests and concerns of their constituents in the state capital
- Impeach and remove state officials from office
- Approve or reject appointments made by the governor
- Approve constitutional amendments and changes to state laws
- Create and dissolve state agencies
- Draw the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts
It should be noted that the structure of state legislatures also varies from state to state, some have a unicameral legislative (one body) and others have a bicameral one, with a lower and upper chamber.
The State Executive Branch
A governor is the head of the executive branch of a state government in the United States. The powers of a governor vary depending on the state but generally include the authority to:
- Sign or veto legislation passed by the state legislature
- Appoint judges, members of boards and commissions, and other officials
- Serve as commander-in-chief of the state’s National Guard
- Prepare and submit a budget to the legislature
- Negotiate contracts and agreements on behalf of the state
- Issue executive orders and proclamations
- Pardon or commute sentences of convicted criminals of state crimes
- Represent the state in legal matters and negotiations with other states and the federal government
- Call the legislature into a special session
It should be noted that the power of governors differs from state to state, some may have more powers than others depending on their state’s Constitution.
The State Judicial Branch
The state judiciary is responsible for interpreting and applying state laws and the state constitution, and for resolving legal disputes. The powers of a state judiciary generally include the authority to:
- Hear and decide cases involving state laws and the state constitution
- Review the constitutionality of state laws and actions by state officials
- Issue decisions and opinions that interpret state laws and set legal precedents
- Supervise and discipline state court personnel and attorneys
- Administer the state court system, including setting rules and procedures for court operations
- Impose penalties and sentences in criminal cases, and award damages in civil cases
- Issue writs, such as habeas corpus, to protect individual rights
- Decide on appeals from lower courts
- In some states, the state supreme court may also have the power to interpret the state’s constitution and even overrule the state legislature or Governor.
It should be noted that the structure of state judiciary also varies from state to state; some states have a unified court system, while others have separate courts for different types of cases.