Your State Legislature and Judiciary

New Jersey

The NJ Legislative branch is comprised of the Senate and General Assembly. The Senate has 40 members, and the General Assembly has 80 members. One senator and two assembly members are elected from each of the 40 districts of New Jersey. The Senate and General Assembly meet for about 40 sessions a year on Mondays and Thursdays.

Senators face election every four years, with the next election coming in Nov. 2021. Democrats currently control the NJ Senate, led by Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Loretta Weinberg is the Majority Leader; Thomas Kean Jr. is the Minority Leader. Assembly members face election every two years. In November 2019, the entire NJ Assembly is up for election. Democrats also control the Assembly, led by Craig Coughlin; Louis Greenwald is the Majority Leader, and Jon M. Branmick is the Minority Leader.  Senators and Assembly members are paid $49,000/yr for their work in the legislature.

Committees from each party draft and review proposed legislation, along with several other bipartisan and non-partisan entities. (Learn more about the role of committees and the process of making a law in “How a Bill Becomes a Law”. In addition, the Office of Legislative Services (OLS), a non-partisan agency, provides legal advice and research support to both houses. OLS staff also drafts the bills and resolutions. For a map of NJ’s state legislative districts, please go here.

In NJ, Congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn by two distinct politician commissions. The congressional redistricting commission comprises the following 13 members:

  • The majority and minority leaders of each chamber of the New Jersey State Legislature appoint two commissioners a piece (for a total of eight members).
  • The chairs of the state’s two major political parties each appoint two members to the commission (for a total of four members). Commissioners appointed by the political parties cannot be members of Congress or congressional employees.
  • The first 12 commissioners appoint the last member. This member cannot have held public office in the state within the previous five-year period. If the first 12 commissioners cannot agree on an appointment, they must submit two names to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The court must then appoint the final commissioner.

If the congressional redistricting commission fails to reach an agreement about a redistricting plan, it must submit two plans to the state Supreme Court, which must in turn select from those two plans a final map.

The state legislative redistricting commission comprises 10 members. The chairs of the state’s two major political parties each appoint five members to the commission. In the event that this commission is unable to reach an agreement about a redistricting plan, the state Supreme Court may appoint a tie-breaking member.

The NJ Judiciary decides how state laws should be applied. Judges are appointed and serve seven-year terms, but after they have been re-appointed once, they can serve until they are 70.

The highest court in the Judiciary branch is the state Supreme Court, which consists of a chief justice and six associate justices, who hear cases related to the NJ Constitution and other major issues. The state Superior Court is where most trials take place and is divided into the Appellate, Law, and Chancery divisions. The Appellate Division hears appeals of decisions from lower courts and state agencies. Law hears cases in its Criminal Division and Civil Division. Chancery consists of a General Equity Division and Family Division. General Equity cases involve matters such as contracts. The Family Division deals with family and children’s legal matters.

Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Legislative branch includes the Senate with 50 members and the House of Representatives with 203 members. The President of the Senate is the Lieutenant Governor, currently Jon Fetterman (D), who only votes in the case of a tie. Pennsylvania state senators serve staggered, four-year terms and half of the Senate is up for election every two years. In 2018, 25 PA Senators were elected, with Republicans maintaining majority control of the Senate, but losing some seats to Democrats. Jake Corman is Senate Majority Leader; Jay Costa is Senate Minority Leader.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is up for election every two years, with 2020 as the next election year for the House. In 2018, the chamber’s Republican majority decreased from 120-79 (with four vacancies) to 110-93. House Speaker is Mike Turzai, Majority Leader is Bryan Cutler, and Minority Leader is Frank Dermody.

In Pennsylvania, the statutory authority to draw congressional district boundaries is vested with the Pennsylvania General Assembly. These lines are subject to gubernatorial veto.[34]

State legislative district lines are drawn by a politician commission. Established in 1968, the commission comprises five members: The Majority and Minority Leaders of both Houses each appoint one member, and the four appointees then appoint a fifth member to serve as the commission’s chair.

Pennsylvania has 60 Judicial districts,  most of which (except Philadelphia) have Magisterial District Judges, who preside mainly over minor criminal offenses and small civil claims. Magisterial District Judges also preside over preliminary hearings in all misdemeanor and felony criminal cases. Most criminal and civil cases originate in the Courts of Common Pleas, which also serve as appellate courts to the district judges and for local agency decisions.

The Superior Court hears all appeals from the Courts of Common Pleas not expressly designated to the Commonwealth Court or Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth Court is limited to appeals from final orders of certain state agencies and certain designated cases from the Courts of Common Pleas. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the final appellate court. All judges in Pennsylvania are elected; the chief justice is determined by seniority.

In total, 439 judges preside over the Court of Common Pleas, 9 judges preside over the Commonwealth Court, 15 judges preside over the Superior Court, and 7 justices preside over the Supreme Court. Elected judges run in 10 year terms, at which point they are required to run in a non-partisan retention election if they wish to continue to serve.

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