Like the federal government, Pennsylvania’s state government is divided into three branches: the executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial branch. The governor serves as the head of Pennsylvania’s executive branch and oversees its administration. The General Assembly consists of two bodies: the Senate and House of Representatives. It serves as the legislative arm of Pennsylvania’s government by making laws on behalf of its citizens.
The state Supreme Court hears appeals from lower courts regarding law-related issues such as criminal convictions, civil lawsuits involving legal disputes between private parties (as opposed to disputes between individuals and public entities like cities or counties), and petitions for permission to appeal cases heard at lower levels in which someone believes a grave injustice has occurred due to incorrect interpretation or application of existing laws (e.g., wrongful imprisonment).
The Pennsylvania Constitution was ratified by the state’s first constitutional convention in 1776. It is the oldest current constitution in continuous use.
The constitution has been altered 40 times, including a major revision in 1968 and many amendments; none of these changes have been attempts to abolish or replace it with another document. The 1874 constitution, drafted by a Democratic-controlled legislature, helped cause the downfall of Governor John Hartranft (R) and other Republicans who supported it; they were defeated by Democrats who opposed its provisions limiting suffrage rights and granting tax exemptions to railroads. The current (1968) version was written after a long process which included several proposals for reform submitted by the General Assembly Commission on Constitutional Revision, the creation of an ad hoc committee chaired by former governor David L. Lawrence (D), whose recommendations formed the basis of what ultimately became law via legislative action taken during 1959–60 sessions; at that time it was decided that all future changes would require approval from three-fifths majorities in both chambers rather than simple majorities as had previously been required under Article XIII Section 2(a).
The General Assembly is the legislative branch of Pennsylvania’s state government. It is bicameral; made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which are both elected for two-year terms. The House has 203 members, while the Senate has 50.
The primary function of each chamber is to pass legislation that affects all Pennsylvanians. In addition to helping create law, members also oversee state agencies and programs from within their chambers; both have their own unique responsibilities when it comes to oversight and review functions
The Governor of Pennsylvania is the chief executive of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania and serves as the commander-in-chief of its military forces. The governor has a duty to enforce laws, and the power to either approve or veto bills passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. He or she can grant pardons except in cases of impeachment, but only when recommended by a majority vote of each house of the state legislature. The governor serves a four-year term beginning on January 20th following each biennial election, where he or she may seek re-election for one additional term (which must also begin on January 20th).
The current governor is Tom Wolf, serving since 2015
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania consists of seven justices, who serve 10-year terms. The court meets in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
In its appellate capacity, the Supreme Court is the court of last resort and the final interpreter of the state’s constitution. If you are appealing a lower court decision to the state supreme court, you will be arguing for a reversal of that decision based on one or more errors committed by the lower court judge or jury that led to your conviction or loss at trial. You must also establish that no other remedy exists within your jurisdiction (for example, an appeal would not be appropriate if it could be re-tried locally).
Supreme Court justices have mandatory retirement age set at 75 years old; however, there are a few exceptions: justices can choose to retire early if they were elected only two years ago (i.e., elected in 2018), have been serving on SCPA since before 2012 when mandatory retirement age was increased from 70 to 75 years old and/or have served at least eight years since being appointed/elected as an associate justice priortothe 2016 election year (i.e., appointed/elected before 2012).
- The judicial power of the Commonwealth is vested in a Supreme Court and such other inferior courts as may be established by law.
- The Supreme Court consists of one Chief Justice, who serves for a term of seven years, and six additional justices, who serve staggered terms of four years each. All are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.
- Judges receive an annual salary set by statute (currently $192,000). They may not hold any other office or employment while serving in their judicial capacity unless specifically authorized by law to do so.
- Judges are subject to suspension or removal from office only upon conviction on impeachment charges in both houses of the General Assembly following trial before the Senate sitting as an impeachment court (Article IV Section 16). In addition, no judge shall hold any other office or employment while serving in his or her judgeship unless specifically authorized by law to do so (Article VII Section 15). Any vacancy caused by death or resignation must be filled within 60 days following its occurrence; otherwise it becomes permanent until filled at next election for General Assembly members (Article X Section 10). If appointment occurs after November 1st but before January 1st then salary will begin that year; if appointment occurs after December 31st then salary will begin next year (Article VIII Section 7).
The executive branch of government is the entity responsible for the day-to-day administration of the state. It is headed by a governor, who is elected every four years by voters.
Other executive branch agencies include:
- lieutenant governor
- attorney general
- auditor general
- state treasurer
To sum up, the state government is governed by Pennsylvania’s constitution, which is the highest authority in Pennsylvania. It establishes the framework for how Pennsylvania’s three branches are to operate. The purpose of the constitution is not only to create a system to govern the state of Pennsylvania, but also to limit one branch of government from having too much power over the other two.