[Color State House (view from Rowe Blvd.), Annapolis, Maryland, 1998. Photo by James Hefelfinger (Hefelfinger Collection, MSA SC 1885-763-3, Maryland State Archives).

Maryland government is based on a written compact known as the Constitution of Maryland. The State has had four constitutions, each containing a declaration of rights - the State's bill of rights. Maryland's first constitution was adopted during the Revolutionary War in 1776, the second in 1851, and the third in 1864. The fourth and present constitution was adopted in 1867. It consists of a declaration of rights, the Constitution proper, and those amendments ratified to date.

The source of all power and authority for governing the State of Maryland lies with its citizens. The Constitution's Declaration of Rights makes clear "That all Government of right originates from the People, is founded in compact only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole; and they have, at all times, the inalienable right to alter, reform or abolish their Form of Government in such manner as they may deem expedient." (Art. 1)

While responsibility for promoting the public interest is vested in specific officers and agencies of State government, actual governing authority remains with the registered voters of Maryland. A registered voter must be eighteen years of age or older, a citizen of the United States, and a resident of Maryland thirty days prior to the date of an election.

Believing that it would be too cumbersome for all persons to participate directly in the operation of government, framers of the Constitution of 1867 followed precedent established in earlier Maryland constitutions by delegating power to elected representatives. They also continued to separate powers of government into three distinct branches which exercise certain checks and balances on each other.

The three branches of State government - executive, legislative, and judicial - act to preserve, protect, and extend the privileges and obligations provided to the citizens of Maryland by the State Constitution. All three represent the interests of the citizens of the State in their relations with other states and the federal government, and each works closely with and supplements the services of municipal and county administrations. Checks and balances provided by the Constitution of Maryland ensure a certain beneficial degree of tension and proprietorship among the three branches of State government, and each carefully guards its prerogatives. The fundamental goal of State government as a whole, however, is to serve the public interest. Through periodic elections, referenda, and amendments to the Constitution, citizens ultimately determine the policies, functions, and extent of the government of the State of Maryland.


[color photograph of State House]

State House (view from East St.), Annapolis, Maryland, October 2000. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

The Executive Branch implements and enforces Maryland's laws and provides executive direction to government. It consists of various constitutional and statutory officers and agencies. Its chief executive officer is the Governor, elected by the voters to a four-year term each even-numbered year that is not a presidential election year. The Governor is responsible for ensuring that Maryland's laws are executed effectively; that certain appointments as provided by the Constitution or by law are made; and that a budget is presented annually to the legislature. As commander in chief of the military, the Governor sees that the armed forces of the State are able to meet any emergency. The Governor appoints judges to the State judiciary and may veto legislation passed by the legislature. The Governor is assisted by the Lieutenant Governor, who is elected on a joint ballot with the gubernatorial candidate. Duties of the Lieutenant Governor are limited to those assigned by the Governor. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor each must be at least thirty years old and a resident and voter of Maryland for the five years immediately preceding election.

Other statewide executive officers also are provided for in the Constitution. The Comptroller of Maryland superintends the fiscal affairs of the State. The State Treasurer accounts for all deposits and disbursements to or from the State treasury. The Secretary of State attests to the Governor's signature on all public documents and oversees all executive orders, commissions, and appointments. The Attorney General serves as legal counsel to the Governor, the legislature, and all State departments, boards, and most commissions. The voters elect the Comptroller and Attorney General. The Treasurer is selected by joint ballot of both houses of the General Assembly, and the Secretary of State is appointed by the Governor. Each of these executive officers serves a four-year term.

An important agency of the executive department is the Board of Public Works, composed of the Governor, the Comptroller, and the Treasurer. The Board approves all sums expended through State loans, most capital improvements, and the sale, lease, or transfer of all real property owned by the State.

Until recently, Maryland, like most states, had experienced a steady proliferation of governmental agencies, boards, and commissions as the need for public services increased. Between 1969 and 1972, the executive branch of government was reorganized to bring agencies with related functions together under a new departmental structure. The General Assembly created twelve cabinet-level departments, encompassing nearly 250 separate governmental entities. In order of their creation, the twelve departments were: Health and Mental Hygiene, Budget and Fiscal Planning, Natural Resources, State Planning, Personnel, General Services, Human Resources, Public Safety and Correctional Services, Licensing and Regulation, Economic and Community Development,Transportation, and Agriculture. The State Department of Education became a principal department in 1976, and in 1983, the Department of Employment and Training was created.

A second major reorganization of government was enacted by the General Assembly in 1987. The Departments of Economic and Community Development and Employment and Training were abolished. Their functions were reorganized under the Department of Economic and Employment Development, and the Department of Housing and Community Development. At the same time, the Department of the Environment was created to assume those environmental responsibilities previously overseen by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Department of Natural Resources.

Over the last few years, governmental reorganization has continued. The General Assembly in 1989 reassigned duties of the Department of State Planning to other agencies and formed a new Department of Juvenile Services. In 1994, the Maryland State Police became the Department of Maryland State Police and, in 1995, the Department of State Police. In 1995, the Division of Employment and Training transferred from the Department of Economic and Employment Development to the Department of Licensing and Regulation. Restructured, the latter became the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. The same year, the Department of Economic and Employment Development reformed as the Department of Business and Economic Development, and the Department of Juvenile Services was renamed the Department of Juvenile Justice. In 1996, the Department of Personnel was abolished. Its functions were assigned to the Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning, which reorganized as the Department of Budget and Management. In 1998, the Office on Aging reformed as the Department of Aging; in 1999, the Department of Veterans Affairs was created; and, in 2000, the Office of Planning reorganized as the Department of Planning.

Within the executive branch now are eighteen principal departments. Each, except for Education, is headed by a secretary, who serves at the pleasure of the Governor and is appointed by the Governor with Senate consent. Each secretary carries out the Governor's policies pertaining to that department and is responsible for the department's operation. The State Department of Education is headed by the State Board of Education, which appoints the State Superintendent of Schools to direct the department.

Certain State agencies whose purpose or functions do not permit easy integration into one of the eighteen cabinet-level departments have remained independent. Examples of such independent agencies include the State Department of Assessments and Taxation, the State Board of Elections, the Public Service Commission, and the University System of Maryland.

Executive departments and independent agencies are augmented by special study commissions and task forces at the discretion of the Governor.


[color photograph of James Senate Office Building, Annapolis]

James Senate Office Building, Annapolis, Maryland, January 2001. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

The Legislative Branch consists of the Maryland General Assembly and its supporting agencies. The General Assembly is the Maryland legislature. Sometimes, the General Assembly is considered the "popular" branch of government, because its members more directly represent the electorate than do officials of either the executive or judiciary. Legislators are elected to both houses of the General Assembly from districts redrawn every ten years after the federal census to ensure equal representation based on the concept of "one person, one vote." Geographical size of the districts varies according to population density.

Like all states but Nebraska, Maryland has a bicameral legislature. The lower house is the House of Delegates and the upper house is the Senate. Representatives to both houses are elected in each gubernatorial election year for four-year terms. Candidates for the House of Delegates must be at least twenty-one years of age and those for the Senate at least twenty-five. The House of Delegates consists of 141 members, while the Senate has 47 members. Both houses convene annually on the second Wednesday in January for a 90-day session. Sessions may be extended by resolution of both houses, and special sessions may be called by the Governor.

The General Assembly passes all laws necessary for the welfare of the State's citizens and certain laws dealing with the counties and special taxing districts. It also determines how State funds are to be allocated; and adopts amendments to the State Constitution, subject to ratification by the voters. Bills may be introduced in either house, and when passed by both houses and signed by the Governor, they become law. Current laws are compiled in the Annotated Code of Maryland.

To facilitate its work during and between sessions, the General Assembly refers work to various committees - statutory, standing (or continuing), and joint. The legislative branch also encompasses the Department of Legislative Services. The Department assists in the preparation of legislation and maintains information services essential for legislators and the public. Additionally, the Department prepares financial impact statements and monitors fiscal functions for the General Assembly.

One of the single most important tasks of the General Assembly, and one that requires close coordination and consultation with the Executive Branch, is adoption of the annual budget for Maryland State government. The Constitution specifies that it is the responsibility of the Governor to present the annual budget to the General Assembly within five days of the beginning of each legislative session. The budget of Maryland must be balanced - it must not exceed anticipated revenues. This requirement prevents deficit spending and accounts in large part for the excellent bond rating enjoyed by the State. Reflecting the principle of separation of powers within State government, the Governor must incorporate into the budget unchanged requests from the legislative and judicial departments, as well as the estimated expenses required for operating the public schools. Beyond these items and other obligations for certain State debts and the salaries of officials specified in the Constitution, the Governor has considerable discretion in determining what programs and agencies to fund in the budget. The budget process thus is a major policy-shaping tool for the Governor. Supplemental budgets may be submitted by the Governor after adoption of the annual budget, but all requests for such funds must be matched by additional anticipated revenues.


[color photograph of Murphy Courts of Appeal Building (view from Rowe Blvd.), Annapolis]

Murphy Courts of Appeal Building (view from Rowe Blvd.), Annapolis, Maryland, November 2000. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

The Judicial Branch is responsible for the resolution of all matters involving civil and criminal law in the State of Maryland. Judges base their decisions on statutory law, common law, or equity. Maryland has a four-tiered court system consisting of the District Court of Maryland, Circuit Courts, the Court of Special Appeals, and the Court of Appeals.

The District Court of Maryland was created in 1971 on a statewide basis in each county and Baltimore City. As a court of limited jurisdiction, it replaced local justices of the peace and county trial magistrates. District Courts have jurisdiction in minor civil and criminal matters and in virtually all violations of the Motor Vehicle Law. District Court judges are appointed by the Governor for ten-year terms.

In each county and in Baltimore City is a Circuit Court. The Circuit Court has original jurisdiction over more serious criminal and civil cases and also hears appeals from decisions in the District Court. Circuit Court judges are nominated by special judicial selection commissions and appointed by the Governor, or they may be elected by the voters. At the first statewide election occurring at least one year after their appointment, Circuit Court judges must successfully stand for election to continue in office for a term of fifteen years.

The Court of Special Appeals is the second highest court in Maryland. Like the State's highest court, the Court of Special Appeals is an appellate court. It was established in 1966 to ease the caseload of the Court of Appeals and to facilitate resolution of cases requiring appellate adjudication. The thirteen judges of the Court of Special Appeals are appointed by the Governor with Senate consent for ten-year terms, subject to approval of the voters at the next election after their appointment. The Court of Special Appeals has exclusive initial appellate jurisdiction over any reviewable judgment, decree, order, or other action of a circuit court, except for appeals in criminal cases in which the death penalty is imposed.

The Court of Appeals has a long history in Maryland, dating from the seventeenth century and reformed by the first State constitution of 1776. As Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals reviews cases of major importance where the decisions rendered are based on constitutional interpretation of the law. The seven judges of the Court of Appeals are appointed by the Governor with Senate consent. They serve ten-year terms. Like judges of the Court of Special Appeals, judges of the Court of Appeals must win approval of the electorate at the first election occurring at least one year after their appointment.

Various units, boards, and commissions exist within the judiciary to facilitate the judicial process and assist judges of the different courts. The Administrative Office of the Courts, for example, assists the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals in carrying out administrative duties. The Judicial Nominating Commissions present names to the Governor when vacancies occur on any of the appellate or circuit courts. The State Law Library is the principal law reference library in the State. Also within the Judicial Branch are the State Board of Law Examiners, which conducts examinations for prospective members of the State Bar, and the Attorney Grievance Commission, charged with supervising and administering the discipline of attorneys.

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