The state executive is the Governor of New Jersey. The executive branch is organized into departments, which may not number more than twenty according to the constitution; there are eighteen departments and fifty-six agencies. Temporary commissions may be allocated by law for special purposes outside of the departments.
The New Jersey Register is the official journal of state agency rulemaking containing the full text of agency proposed and adopted rules, notices of public hearings, Gubernatorial Orders, and agency notices of public interest. The New Jersey Administrative Code (N.J.A.C.) is a compilation of all rules adopted by state agencies.
The Governor of New Jersey is head of the executive branch. The office of governor is an elected position, for which elected officials serve four-year terms. Governors cannot be elected to more than two consecutive terms, but there is no limit on the total number of terms they may serve. The official residence for the governor is Drumthwacket, a mansion located in Princeton, New Jersey; the office of the governor is at the New Jersey State House in Trenton. The Governor is responsible for appointing two constitutionally created officers, the New Jersey Attorney General and the Secretary of State of New Jersey, with the approval of the senate.
The Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey is the second highest-ranking official in the state government. The office of lieutenant governor is elected on a ticket with the governor for a four-year term concurrent with the governor. Because the position lacks distinct powers or purpose other than to exist solely as next in the order of succession, the state constitution requires that the lieutenant governor be appointed to serve as the head of a cabinet-level department or administrative agency within the Governor's administration. However, pursuant to the state constitution, a lieutenant governor cannot serve as the state's Attorney General.
Prior to 2010, New Jersey was one of a few states in the United States that did not have a Lieutenant Governor to succeed to the governorship in the event of a vacancy in that office. For most of the state's (and previously the colony's) history, a vacancy in the position of governor was filled by the president of the State Senate (called the "Legislative Council" from 1776 to 1844), or during the colonial era by the president of the royal governor's Provincial Council. After several episodes where the state had multiple "acting governors" in the span of a few years following the resignations of Governor Christine Todd Whitman in 2001 and Governor James E. McGreevey in 2004, popular sentiment and political pressure from the state's residents and news media outlets sought a permanent and tenable solution to the issue of succession when the governor's office became vacant. A 2005 referendum to amend the constitution provided for the position of lieutenant governor to be created, to change the order of succession, and that the post would be filled in next gubernatorial election (2009).
Republican Kim Guadagno is the first to serve in the post in its modern form. Guadagno, previously the sheriff in Monmouth County, was chosen by Governor Chris Christie to be his running-mate on the Republican party ticket in the 2009 election. In addition to being lieutenant governor, Guadagno serves in Governor Christie's cabinet as New Jersey's 33rd Secretary of State.
The state constitution provides that the governor appoints the heads of up to 20 principal departments. As of 2013, there are 15 cabinet-level or principal departments in the state's executive branch.
The NJ Constitution provides for a bicameral Legislature consisting of a Senate of 40 members and an Assembly of 80 members. Each of the 40 legislative districts elects one Senator and two Assembly members. Assembly members are elected by the people for a two-year term in all odd-numbered years; Senators are elected in the years ending in 1, 3, and 7 and thus serve either four- or two-year terms.
The Legislature is responsible for the appointment of the New Jersey State Auditor, the only state officer which is appointed by the legislature. Its session laws are published in the Acts of the Legislature of the State of New Jersey, commonly known as the Laws of New Jersey, which are codified in the New Jersey Statutes (N.J.S.), also referred to as the Revised Statutes (R.S.), which are in turn published in the New Jersey Statutes Annotated (N.J.S.A.).
The members of the New Jersey Legislature are chosen from 40 electoral districts. Each district elects one Senator and two Assemblymen. New Jersey is one of seven U.S. states (with Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington) in which districts for the upper and lower house of the legislature are coterminous. Districts are redefined decennially by the New Jersey Apportionment Commission following each U.S. Census, as provided by Article IV, Section III of the State Constitution.
The state court system of New Jersey comprises the New Jersey Supreme Court, the state supreme court, and many lower courts.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the state. It hears appeals from the Appellate Courts. It has the capacity, rarely exercised, to look into other cases within the judicial and executive branches.
The Court consists of a chief justice and six associate justices. All are appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of a majority of the membership of the state senate. Justices serve an initial seven-year term, after which they can be reappointed to serve until age 70. The New Jersey Supreme Court was created and its role established by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1947. As the highest court in the State, it replaced the prior Court of Errors and Appeals, created under the Constitution of 1844. It is the final judicial authority on all cases in the state court system, the sole determinant of the constitutionality of state laws with respect to the state constitution, and the arbiter and overseer of the decennial legislative redistricting.
According to Mandel's New Jersey Appellate Practice, "The Appellate Division of New Jersey's Superior Court is the first level appellate court, with appellate review authority over final judgments of the trial divisions and the Tax Court and over final decisions and actions of State administrative agencies."
The state's Supreme Court held that "an appellate court's judgment provides 'the final directive of the appeals courts as to the matter appealed, setting out with specificity the court's determination that the action appealed from should be affirmed, reversed, remanded or modified'"
The Municipal Courts carry out most of the day-to-day work in the New Jersey courts, where simple traffic tickets, minor criminal offenses, and small civil matters are heard.
The Tax Court is a court of limited jurisdiction. Tax Court judges hear appeals of tax decisions made by County Boards of Taxation. They also hear appeals on decisions made by the Director of the Division of Taxation on such matters as state income, sales and business taxes, and homestead rebates. Appeals from Tax Court decisions are heard in the Appellate Division of Superior Court. Tax Court judges are appointed by the Governor for initial terms of seven years, and upon reappointment are granted tenure until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 70. There are 12 Tax Court judgeships.
New Jersey has 21 counties, each of which is administered by a Board of Chosen Freeholders—a elected commission of either three, five, seven, or nine seats determined by the size of the county's population—that oversee a range of executive and legislative functions. In most counties, the freeholders are elected "at-large" where each freeholder represents the entire county. Hudson County divides the county into nine districts that are equal in size of population, and each district is represented by one freeholder. Essex County and Atlantic County have five freeholders representing districts and four freeholders elected at-large. The concept of a "freeholder" derives from the state's colonial legal and political history which granted the right to vote provide that a citizen own or otherwise possess sufficient property or assets.
In some counties, members of the Board of Chosen Freeholders perform both legislative and executive functions on a commission basis, with each Freeholder assigned responsibility for a department or group of departments. In other counties (Atlantic, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Mercer), there is a directly elected county executive who performs the executive functions while the Board of Chosen Freeholders retains a legislative and oversight role. In counties without an executive, a county administrator (or county manager) may be hired to perform day-to-day administration of county functions.
As of 2013, New Jersey's 21 counties are divided into 565 municipalities. That means there are no independent cities or consolidated city-counties in New Jersey. There is no unincorporated territory. Title 40 of the New Jersey Statutes provides the state's municipalities to be incorporated under five types (city, town, township, borough and village), with twelve forms of management. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that New Jersey has 250 boroughs, 52 cities, 15 towns, 244 townships, and 4 villages. Several municipalities continue to operate under special charters that do not conform with the government formats prescribed by the current statutes. New Jersey's municipalities range in population from towns with from small single-digit or double-digit populations (as in Tavistock or Walpack Township) or cities in which of several hundred thousand persons reside (such as Newark, Paterson or Trenton).
New Jersey distinguishes between regional, consolidated and countywide school districts and those serving single municipalities. There are also non-operating school districts, which are those districts that do not operate any school facilities and where all students attend school in other districts as part of sending/receiving relationships. The majority of school districts in New Jersey are established for general purposes and have boundaries equivalent to the municipality with which they are associated.
The schools of each public school district are governed by a board of education. There is a superintendent for each district (which may be shared between districts), and a county superintendent of schools (the state Department of Education's representative) and executive county superintendent of schools (gubernatorial appointments whose duties include reducing district spending, collaboration and shared services) in each county.