The government of Maryland is conducted according to the Maryland Constitution. The United States is a federation; consequently, the government of Maryland, like the other 49 state governments, has exclusive authority over matters that lie entirely within the state's borders, except as limited by the Constitution of the United States.
Administrative influence in Maryland is divided among three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. Unlike most other states, significant autonomy is granted to many of Maryland's counties.
Most of the business of government is done in Annapolis, the state capital. Virtually all state and county elections are held in even-numbered years not divisible by four, in which the President of the United States is not elected--this, as in other states, is intended to divide state and federal politics.
The constitution establishes five principal executive branch officers, as described below. Four of them are elected statewide: the governor and lieutenant governor (who are elected on the same ticket), the attorney general, and the comptroller. The fifth, the treasurer, is elected by a joint ballot of both houses of the General Assembly.
As in all states, a popularly elected governor heads Maryland's executive branch. The governor's cabinet is known as the Executive Council. Like most state chief executives, the Maryland governor is elected to serve a four-year term. He or she is term limited to serve no more than two consecutive terms. The Governor is elected under the plurality system. The current governor is Larry Hogan.
The governor has power to veto laws passed by the state's legislature and, like most of the nation's governors, also has a line item veto, which can be used to strike certain portions of appropriations bills. The state legislature can override a veto by a three-fifths (60%) vote of the total number of members in each house. This is different from most states, which usually require a higher two-thirds (66.66%) vote to override a veto.
The appointment powers of the governor are extensive, as he or she appoints almost all military and civil officers of the State subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. In addition to appointing the heads of major departments, boards, and commissions of the State government, the Governor appoints certain boards and commissions in each county and the City of Baltimore, as provided for by law. The Governor also commissions notaries public and appoints persons to fill vacancies in the offices of Attorney General and Comptroller (both of which are normally elected by the people) and also to fill vacant seats in the General Assembly. Any officer appointed by the Governor (except interim members of the General Assembly) is removable by him or her for cause.
The governor is commander-in-chief of the military forces of the State, the Maryland National Guard, except when such forces are called into the national service by the President of the United States, as well as the Maryland Defense Force. In times of public emergency the Governor has certain emergency powers as defined by law.
The Maryland Lieutenant Governor is elected on the same ticket as the state's Governor and is nominally the second highest-ranking official in the state. The position was first created by the short-lived Maryland Constitution of 1864 and functioned from 1865 to 1868 before being abolished by the state's present constitution, which was ratified in 1867. The position was re-established by Constitutional amendment in 1970, under which the Lieutenant Governor "shall have only the duties delegated to him by the Governor."
The Maryland Lieutenant Governor, currently Boyd Rutherford, is therefore weaker than the office in most other states which have one (several states do not have one). For instance, in many states, including Texas, the Lieutenant Governor is the President of the State's Senate and in California the Lieutenant Governor assumes all of the Governor's powers when he or she is out of the state. In both of those states, as in some others, the Lieutenant Governor is elected in his or her own right, independently of the state's Governor.
In practice, Maryland's Lieutenant Governor attends cabinet meetings, chairs various task forces and commissions, represents the state at ceremonial functions and at events which the Governor cannot attend, and advises the Governor. If there is a vacancy in the office of the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor becomes the Governor. A vacancy in the Lieutenant Governorship is filled by a person nominated by the Governor and confirmed by a majority vote of the General Assembly voting in joint session.
The Attorney General is the chief legal officer of the State and is elected by the people every four years with no term limits. To run for the office a person must be a citizen of and qualified voter in Maryland and must have resided and practiced law in the state for at least ten years. The current attorney general is Brian Frosh.
The Attorney General has general charge, supervision and direction of the legal business of the State. He or she is the legal advisor and representative of the Governor, the General Assembly, the Judiciary, and the major departments, various boards, commissions, officials and institutions of State Government. The Office further represents the State in all cases pending in the Appellate Courts of the State, and in the United States Supreme Court and lower Federal Courts. This has led to significant conflict when the Attorney General and Governor have strongly differing views.
The Comptroller is the state's chief financial officer and is also elected by the people for a four-year term. The comptroller is not term-limited. The office was established by the Maryland Constitution of 1851 due to concern about the potential for fraud and corruption in the administration of the public treasury. The constitutional duties of the office begin with the broad mandate to exercise "general superintendence of the fiscal affairs of the State", which includes collecting taxes and maintaining the general ledger. The Comptroller (or a deputy) countersigns all checks drawn by the State Treasurer upon the deposits of the State. The Comptroller also prescribes the formalities for transfer of other evidence of State debt and countersigns such papers. The current comptroller is Peter Franchot.
In addition, the comptroller's office audits taxpayers for compliance, handles delinquent tax collection, and enforces license and unclaimed property laws. The agency publicizes forgotten bank accounts, insurance benefits and other unclaimed assets of taxpayers. Acting as Maryland's chief accountant, the comptroller pays the state's bills, maintains its books, prepares financial reports, and pays state employees.
The Treasurer, currently Nancy K. Kopp, is the principal custodian of the State's cash deposits, money from bond sales, and other securities and collateral and directs the investments of those assets. The Treasurer is elected by a joint ballot of both houses of the General Assembly, a tradition begun starting with the Maryland Constitution of 1851, which also created the Board of Public Works (see below).
Because of the close relationship with the General Assembly, the Treasurer briefs the members of the Legislature on matters concerning the State Treasury. The Treasurer is also responsible for producing an annual report to provide the Governor, the General Assembly, and the public with current information about the operations of the State Treasurer's Office.
The State Board of Public Works was first created by the Maryland Constitution of 1864 and is composed of the Governor, who chairs it, the Comptroller, and the Treasurer. The three-member board is quite powerful and there is no other state that has a similar institution. The board, which generally meets twice a month, reviews and approves capital projects, procurement contracts, and the acquisition, use, and transfer of State assets, to assure that executive decisions are made responsibly and responsively.
The state's legislative branch is styled as the General Assembly and consists of a 47-member Senate and a 141-member House of Delegates. It meets each year for 90 days to act on more than 2300 bills including the State's annual budget. The 426th Session began January 14, 2009 and adjourned April 13, 2009. Like the governor, members of both houses serve four-year terms. Each house elects its own officers, judges the qualifications and election of its own members, establishes rules for the conduct of its business, and may punish or expel its own members.
The current pattern for distribution of seats began with the legislative apportionment plan of 1972 and has been revised every ten years thereafter according to the results of the decennial U.S. Census. A Constitutional amendment, the plan created 47 legislative districts, many of which cross county boundaries to delineate districts relatively equal in population. Each legislative district elects one senator and three delegates. Some of the larger districts are divided into delegate subdistricts to provide local representation to areas not large enough to constitute an entire legislative district.
The Senate is led by a President and the House by a Speaker whose respective duties and prerogatives enable them to influence the legislative process significantly. The President and the Speaker appoint the members of most committees and name their chairs and vice-chairs, except in the case of the Joint Committee on Investigation whose members elect their own officers. The President and Speaker preside over the daily sessions of their respective chambers, maintaining decorum and deciding points of order. As legislation is introduced, they assign it to a standing committee for consideration and a public hearing.
The Maryland Court of Appeals is the highest court in the state. In addition to being the court of last resort for the state, the Court of Appeals also administers and sets rules and guidelines for the state's court system. It has original jurisdiction in only a few areas and hears most cases on appeal. The court has seven judges, one from each of the state's seven appellate judicial circuits, which are presently as follows:
To ease the caseload of the Court of Appeals, the state's second-highest court, the Court of Special Appeals, was created in 1966, following a constitutional amendment. Except as otherwise provided by law, the Court of Special Appeals has exclusive initial appellate jurisdiction over any reviewable judgment, decree, order, or other action of a circuit court or an orphans' court, except for appeals in criminal cases in which the death penalty is imposed. Generally, it hears cases appealed from the circuit courts.
Judges of the Court of Special Appeals are empowered to sit in panels of three. A hearing or rehearing of a case en banc, in which all of the Court's judges sit, may be ordered in any case by a majority of the Court's incumbent judges. The court has thirteen judges, one from each of the state's seven judicial appellate circuits and six at-large judges.
Judges on both appellate courts are appointed by the Governor, with the consent of the Senate and the approval of the people, for 10 years. This system is similar to the Missouri Plan, which is used in 11 states to fill judicial appointments, in that voters get to decide whether or not to continue a judge in office. However, it is different in that the Governor's choice in who to appoint is not limited by a Judicial Selection Commission and the State Senate must confirm the nominee before he or she takes office.
Circuit Courts are the highest common law and equity courts of record exercising original jurisdiction within Maryland. Each has full common law and equity powers and jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases within its county or counties, and all the additional powers and jurisdiction conferred by the Maryland Constitution and by law, except where jurisdiction has been limited or conferred exclusively upon another tribunal by law. The Circuit Courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction. Their jurisdiction is very broad but generally covers major civil cases and more serious criminal matters. Circuit Courts also may decide appeals from the District Court and certain administrative agencies. Cases can be heard by a jury when the amount in controversy is over $15,000. Juries are limited to the Circuit Courts.
The state is divided into eight judicial circuits, which are presently as follows:
Unlike other state courts, the Circuit Court has no chief judge. Instead, eight circuit administrative judges perform administrative duties in each of their respective circuits. Each Circuit Court judge is appointed by the Governor (with out Senate confirmation) for the temporary position until the next election . The judge's name is placed on the ballot in the first general election once they qualify and pay the standard filing fee for the vacancy the judge was appointed to fill. The judge may be opposed formally by one or more qualified members of the bar, with the successful candidate that the people have elected to a fifteen-year term.
The Maryland District Court has jurisdiction in minor civil and criminal matters, and in virtually all violations of the Motor Vehicle Law. Created by a constitutional amendment in 1970, the court began operating in July 1971. It replaced the justices of the peace, the county trial magistrates, the People's Courts (in certain counties), and various minor courts. With statewide jurisdiction, the Court functions in every county and Baltimore City.
The exclusive jurisdiction of the District Court generally includes all landlord and tenant cases; replevin actions; motor vehicle violations; and criminal cases if the penalty is less than three years imprisonment or does not exceed a fine of $2,500, or both. The District Court has concurrent jurisdiction in misdemeanors and certain enumerated felonies, but has little equity jurisdiction. Small claims (civil cases involving amounts not exceeding $5,000) also come under the jurisdiction of the District Court. In civil cases involving amounts over $5,000 (but not exceeding $25,000), the District Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit courts. Since the District Court provides no juries, a person entitled to and electing a jury trial must proceed to the Circuit Court. However, appeals from the District Court can be heard de novo in the Circuit Court.
District Court judges are appointed by the Governor to ten-year terms, subject to Senate confirmation. Unlike other judges in the state, they do not stand for election. As of October 2003, some 105 judges, including the Chief Judge, who is designated by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, serve on the Court. As the District Court's administrative head, its Chief Judge appoints administrative judges for each of the twelve districts, subject to the approval of the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. Administered centrally, the District Court of Maryland is funded totally by the State.
The District Court of Maryland is divided into twelve geographical districts as follows:
At the local level, Maryland is notable among U.S. states for having a relatively small number of local governments. Maryland is also unique among Northeastern states in that it has fairly strong county governments. In most Northeastern states, counties are administrative divisions with little (and in the case of New England, almost nonexistent) authority, and most local government is at the town or city level. This is not true for Maryland's 23 counties, some of which have substantial authority. There are three forms of county government available to the state's counties. Note that the independent city of Baltimore is typically considered to be on par with the counties; it is reckoned as a county-equivalent for census purposes. Including Baltimore, there are 157 incorporated cities in Maryland.
In 1827, the General Assembly authorized elected boards of county commissioners for each county. Counties governed by commissioners have no authority to act in local matters without the express prior consent of the General Assembly. In the areas where they do have authority to legislate, that authority is narrowly construed. The Constitution adopted in 1867 kept the power to pass public local laws vested in the General Assembly, which gave a lot of control over county government to county delegations in the General Assembly. As a result of this, the General Assembly spends considerable time dealing with local issues, ordinances, and expenditures.
Due partly to the large amount of time spent by the state legislature on local matters, the Maryland Constitution was amended in 1915 to allow counties the option of operating under a charter form of government, with substantial home rule power. To adopt this form of government, the voters of the county must approve the charter which their charter board drafts.
Charter counties are governed by an elected county council with power to legislate on almost all local matters. Their authority is fairly broadly construed, though the regulation of elections and the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages is reserved to the General Assembly. Some counties which operate under charters have a separately-elected county executive while others vest executive functions along with legislative functions in the county council.
Currently, eleven counties, including the most populous ones, operate under the charter form of government. They are: Anne Arundel (1964), Baltimore (1956), Cecil (2012), Dorchester (2002), Frederick (2014),Harford (1972), Howard (1968), Montgomery (1948), Prince George's (1970), Talbot (1973), and Wicomico (1964) Counties.Baltimore City also operates under a charter.
Due to the reluctance of many counties to adopt a charter form of government, despite wanting a measure of home rule, the Maryland Constitution was again amended in 1966 to create a third class of county government, the "code county" status. If two thirds of a county's commissioners adopt a resolution that the county become a code county and a majority of the voters approve of the resolution, the county becomes a code county. In a code county, the county commissioners have home-rule powers, and may enact legislation in the areas of the "express powers" of the charter counties. In addition, the commissioners retain all the powers of commissioners in commissioner counties. However, there is no charter, and the limits on indebtedness are stricter. The General Assembly can only legislate for the code counties as a class.
"Express Powers" include franchises, appointment and compensation of county officers, merit system, pensions, group health benefits and joint pooling agreements, tax collections, campground and RVs, publishing and audits, claim proof, competitive bidding and bonds, records, health measures, road maintenance and engineering, prisoner compensation, county police, hearings, plumbing and zoning permits, residential land development, building code, licensing, parks and recreation, refuse collection and disposal. (with various exceptions)
- -- Article 25, Annotated Code of Maryland, Section 3
Maryland was the seventh state to ratify the United States Constitution, on April 28, 1788. Maryland elects two United States Senators and eight members of the United States House of Representatives. The state is served by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland (with two divisions, sitting in Baltimore and Greenbelt) and federal appeals from the state go to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia.