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Your Guide to New Jersey Government

Your Guide to New Jersey Government

As one of the original thirteen colonies, New Jersey declared itself an independent state in 1776 and created its own form of government. Nearly 245 years later, New Jersey’s government is a similar yet modified version of its original structure.

The New Jersey State Constitution

New Jersey’s current state constitution was adopted in 1947 and is the fundamental governing document for New Jersey. Like that of the United States, New Jersey’s constitution divides the New Jersey’s government into three branches: the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch.

To amend the state constitution, both houses of the New Jersey state legislature have to agree to place a proposed amendment on the ballot for a general election. Then, a majority of voters have to approve it.

Did you know New Jersey legalized marijuana for adults 21 and over by amending the state constitution?

In 2019, the New Jersey State Legislature voted to place a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over on the ballot for the 2020 general election. And on November 3, 2020, 67% of New Jerseyans voted in favor of the measure, making New Jersey the 12th state to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over.

New Jersey Executive Branch

Under the New Jersey State Constitution, the Governor of New Jersey is the head of the executive branch and is charged with faithfully upholding and executing the laws of New Jersey. They are elected every four years to a four-year term, not to exceed two consecutive terms.

In addition to overseeing the departments, agencies, boards, and commissions that make up the executive branch, the governor signs bills into law, can call the Legislature into special session, has the power to grant pardons, and is the only person with the authority to call in the National Guard.

Heads of executive agencies are also appointed by the Governor and subject to confirmation by the state senate. Collectively, they comprise the Governor's Cabinet and include:

  • Attorney General
  • Secretary of State
  • State Treasurer
  • Secretary, Department of Agriculture
  • Commissioner, Department of Banking and Insurance
  • President, Board of Public Utilities
  • Commissioner, Department of Children and Families
  • Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Civil Service Commission
  • Commissioner, Department of Community Affairs
  • Comptroller, Office of the State Comptroller
  • Commissioner, Department of Corrections
  • Chief Executive Officer, Economic Development Authority
  • Commissioner, Department of Education
  • Commissioner, Department of Environmental Protection
  • Commissioner, Department of Health
  • Secretary, Office of Higher Education
  • Director, Office of Homeland Security
  • Commissioner, Department of Human Services
  • Chief Technology Officer, Office of Information Technology
  • Chief Innovation Officer, Office of Innovation
  • Commissioner, Department of Labor and Workforce Development
  • Commissioner, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
  • Chair and Chief Administrator, Motor Vehicle Commission
  • Superintendent, New Jersey State Police
  • Commissioner, Department of Transportation

The Governor is also responsible for appointing other officials, including:

  • Judges (including the State Supreme Court)
  • County Prosecutors
  • County Boards of Election and Taxation
  • Members of Boards and Commissions of various purpose and scope

Philip Murphy: New Jersey’s 56th Governor

Philip Murphy first took the oath of office as New Jersey’s 56th governor on January 16, 2018, and was re-elected in 2021 for his second and final term. Since taking office, Governor Murphy has focused on using his executive power to build what he has termed “a stronger and fairer” New Jersey. Specifically, he has focused on policies to help the working- and middle-class residents and underserved communities; as well as global issues such as climate change.

Under Governor Murphy, New Jersey has passed several initiatives as part of his agenda. Among them are:

  • Legalizing adult-use cannabis for adults 21 and over
  • Moving to a $15-per-hour minimum wage
  • Guaranteeing earned sick days
  • Expanding paid family leave
  • Providing tuition-free community college for qualified students
  • Enacting initiatives to offer in-state tuition assistance to Dreamers
  • Expanding protections for the state’s immigrant and LGBTQ communities
  • Emerging as a leader in the deployment of renewable energy to achieve 100% clean energy by 2050

Governor Murphy has also put a special emphasis on making New Jersey more welcoming to both established high-tech enterprises and start-up companies in the innovation economy. In January 2021, Governor Murphy enacted the state's first tax credits for historic preservation and expanded credits for brownfields reclamation and redevelopment, among other initiatives.

The Role of New Jersey’s Lieutenant Governor

In New Jersey, the state constitution requires a gubernatorial candidate to select a lieutenant governor after securing the nomination of a political party. The gubernatorial and lieutenant governor candidates are elected together and serve the same four-year term concurrently.

The Lieutenant Governor serves as first in succession to the governorship and as head of a cabinet-level department or administrative agency appointed by the Governor.

Sheila Y. Oliver: New Jersey’s Lieutenant Governor

On January 16, 2018, Sheila Y. Oliver was sworn in as Lieutenant Governor alongside Governor Phil Murphy and was also re-elected in 2021 for a second term.

In addition to her role as Lieutenant Governor, she serves as Acting Governor when the Governor leaves the state. In New Jersey, a Lieutenant Governor must also lead a state agency as well. In this role, Lieutenant Governor Oliver also serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, where she has led efforts to strengthen and expand initiatives for fair and affordable housing, community revitalization, homelessness prevention, and local government services that support New Jersey’s 565 municipalities.

Under her leadership, New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs has also expanded and leveraged a wide range of initiatives aimed at assisting distressed municipalities, including the federal Opportunity Zones tax incentive, the Main Street New Jersey program, the Neighborhood Preservation Program, and the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit program, which have received increased funding.

In her role as Acting Governor, she has signed multiple bills into law, including those that established a Caregiver Task Force to identify ways to support people taking care of loved ones who are elderly or disabled, require all public school students in grades 6-8 to receive financial literacy education, strengthen equal pay for equal work by preventing employers from asking employees’ previous salary history, and protect employees from wage theft.

New Jersey State Legislature

The New Jersey State Legislature consists of two Houses: a 40-member Senate and an 80-member General Assembly. Each House elects a presiding officer from among its members - the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the General Assembly. The Senate President and Assembly Speaker are second and third in succession to the governorship after the Lieutenant Governor.

The President and the Speaker have broad powers within their Houses. They decide the meeting schedules and the daily calendar of bills to be considered, preside over the sessions, appoint committee chairs and members, refer bills to committees for consideration, and direct the business of their Houses. The Houses elect a Senate Secretary and Clerk of the General Assembly, respectively, who supervise the business operations of the two Houses.

Each party in each House also selects party leaders: the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader, assistant leaders, and other leadership roles. The party leaders help develop party policy on the issues before the Legislature and guide their respective caucuses.

The chief function of the New Jersey State Legislature is to enact laws. A proposal to make a new law or change or repeal an existing law is presented to the New Jersey State Legislature as a bill. A bill must pass both Houses by a majority vote and be signed by the Governor to become law.

New Jersey’s Judicial Branch

New Jersey’s Judicial Branch, otherwise known as the state court system, is the third and final co-equal branch of New Jersey’s state government. The state court system punishes violators, settles controversies and disputes, and is the final authority on the meaning and constitutionality of laws.

Each year, about seven million new cases are filed in New Jersey's state-level courts. The decisions made in our courts influence people's lives in countless ways.

The New Jersey Supreme Court

The New Jersey Supreme Court is the state’s highest appellate court. It is composed of a chief justice and six associate justices.  As the highest appellate court, the Supreme Court reviews cases from the lower courts.  Most litigants must request that the court hear their appeal by filing a petition for certification with the court.  The court may agree to hear an appeal because it presents legal issues of great importance to the public or because it is the subject of conflicting Appellate Division decisions.

The New Jersey Court System

The New Jersey Superior Court falls underneath the New Jersey Supreme Court and is divided into the Appellate, Law, and Chancery divisions. Superior Court is where most trials take place.

  • The Appellate Division hears appeals of decisions from lower courts and state agencies.
  • The Law Division hears cases in its Criminal Division and Civil Division. Criminal deals with people accused of crimes, while Civil deals with lawsuits.
  • 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.

In addition to the Supreme Court and Superior Courts, New Jersey’s court system includes the Superior Court Clerk’s Office, Municipal Courts, Tax Court, County Courts, and other Administrative Offices.

The Role of New Jersey Government

Whether you realize it or not, New Jersey’s three co-equal branches of government make decisions every day that have the ability to impact your life. And together, their respective functions make sure New Jersey continues to be one of the most desirable states to live and work in.

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