Government of North Carolina
Polity typePresidential System
ConstitutionConstitution of North Carolina
Legislative branch
NameGeneral Assembly
Meeting placeNorth Carolina State Legislative Building
Upper house
Presiding officerMark Robinson, President
Lower house
NameHouse of Representatives
Presiding officerTim Moore, Speaker
Executive branch
Head of State and Government
CurrentlyRoy Cooper
Deputy leaderLieutenant Governor
HeadquartersState Capitol
Judicial branch
NameJudiciary of North Carolina
CourtsCourts of North Carolina
North Carolina Supreme Court
Chief judgePaul Martin Newby
SeatLaw and Justice Building, Raleigh

The government of North Carolina is divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. These consist of the Council of State (led by the Governor), the bicameral legislature (called the General Assembly), and the state court system (headed by the North Carolina Supreme Court). The Constitution of North Carolina delineates the structure and function of the state government.[1][2][3]

Executive branch

See also: North Carolina Council of State and North Carolina Cabinet

North Carolina's executive branch is governed by Article III of the state constitution. The first North Carolina Constitution in 1776 called for a governor and a seven member Council of State elected by the legislature. Currently, the ten-member Council of State of North Carolina includes the following members elected by voters:[1][2][3][4][5][6]

  1. Governor
  2. Lieutenant Governor
  3. Attorney General
  4. Secretary of State
  5. Commissioner of Agriculture
  6. Commissioner of Insurance
  7. Commissioner of Labor
  8. Superintendent of Public Instruction
  9. State Treasurer
  10. State Auditor

The Council of State as a collective body is accorded little responsibility by the state constitution, though some statues grant it authority in certain cases, particularly in the acquisition of property by the state.[7]

The Department of Agriculture Building in Raleigh

The nine North Carolina Cabinet departments, headed by department secretaries, plus the Department of Administration, are appointed by the Governor are as follows:[4]

  1. Department of Administration,
  2. Department of Commerce,
  3. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources,
  4. Department of Environmental Quality,
  5. Department of Health and Human Services,
  6. Department of Information Technology
  7. Department of Revenue,
  8. Department of Public Safety,
  9. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs,[8]
  10. Department of Transportation.

The North Carolina Register includes information about state agency rules, administrative rules, executive orders and other notices, and is published bimonthly.[9][10] The North Carolina Administrative Code (NCAC) contains all the codified rules.[9]

Legislative branch

See also: North Carolina General Assembly and Law of North Carolina

The North Carolina State Legislative Building in Raleigh

The legislature derives its authority from Article II of the North Carolina Constitution.[3] The North Carolina General Assembly is the state legislature. Like all other states except for Nebraska, the legislature is bicameral, currently consisting of the 120-member North Carolina House of Representatives[11] and the 50-member North Carolina Senate. The lieutenant governor is the ex officio president of the state Senate. The Senate also elects its own president pro tempore and the House elects its speaker. Its session laws are published in the official North Carolina Session Laws and codified as the North Carolina General Statutes.[9][12][13]


The Law and Justice Building, which houses the Supreme Court

North Carolina's current judicial system was created in the 1960s after significant consolidation and reform.[14] The judicial system derives its authority from Article IV of the North Carolina Constitution.[15] The state court system is unified into one General Court of Justice.[16] The General Court is composed of a District Court Division, a Superior Court Division, and an Appellate Division.[17] The Administrative Office of the Courts oversees all clerical and financial aspects of the state judicial system.[16]

At the helm of the General Court of Justice and one of the two components of the Appellate Division is the Supreme Court of North Carolina.[18] The Supreme Court consists of one chief justice and six associate justices, all popularly-elected to serve eight-year terms.[19] The primary function of the tribunal is to decide questions of law that have arisen in the lower courts and before state administrative agencies,[20] and its docket is typically dominated by cases concerning interpretation of the constitution, major legal questions, and appeals of criminal cases involving capital punishment.[15] The North Carolina Court of Appeals is the state's intermediate appellate court and consists of fifteen judges who rule in rotating panels of three. Together, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals constitute the appellate division of the court system.

The trial division includes the Superior Court and the District Court. The Superior Court is the state trial court of general jurisdiction; all felony criminal cases, civil cases involving an amount in controversy in excess of $25,000, and appeals from the District Court are tried (de novo review) in Superior Court. A jury of 12 hears the criminal cases.

The District Court is a court of limited jurisdiction. It has original jurisdiction over family law matters (divorce, child custody, child support); civil claims involving less than $25,000; criminal cases involving misdemeanors and lesser infractions; and juvenile cases involving children under the age of 16 who are delinquent and children under the age of 18 who are undisciplined, dependent, neglected, or abused. Magistrates of the District Court may accept guilty pleas for minor misdemeanors, accept guilty pleas for traffic violations, and accept waivers of trial for worthless check and other charges. In civil cases, the magistrate is authorized to try small claims involving up to $10,000 including landlord-tenant and eviction cases. Magistrates also perform civil marriages. District Court only conducts bench trials, with no jury.

Local government

Municipal Building in Asheboro, North Carolina

See also: List of municipalities in North Carolina and List of counties in North Carolina


The General Assembly's authority to create local governments comes from Article VII of the Constitution of North Carolina.[21] Local governments in North Carolina primarily consist of counties, cities, and towns.[22] The state makes no legal distinction between a town and a city.[23] North Carolina has 100 counties and more than 552 municipalities.[24] There are also special purpose governments, most of which concern either soil and water conservation or housing and community development.[25] Some local governments are joined in regional councils with others to improve coordination and cooperation.[26]


All counties in the state are led by an elected board of commissioners who employ a county manager.[27] Boards of commissioners vary in size from three to 11 members. In addition to the manager, the commissioners usually hire the county's clerk, attorney, assessor, and tax collector. Unlike in municipal council-manager governments in the state, the board of commissioners usually must approve all of the manager's hiring decisions unless they explicitly delegate sole hiring authority to the manager.[28] County government in North Carolina is also more fractured than municipal government, due to the presence of other elected officials such as sheriffs and registers of deeds, who have control over their own staff.[29] The office of county sheriff is established by the constitution, and sheriffs are not subject to the oversight of the state government.[30] County government is largely funded through local property taxes.[31]

County governments in North Carolina include the following officials:[22]


North Carolina is a Dillon's rule state,[32] and municipalities are only able to exercise the authority that the General Assembly or state constitution explicitly gives them.[24] All municipalities in North Carolina operate under either mayor-council governments or council-manager government,[24] with most using the latter.[23] All have an elected general governing board known variously as a city or town council, the board of commissioners or the board of aldermen.[24] Some of these municipalities have mayors, who preside over the elected city council, which determines local government policy and creates the city budget. Most mayors are popularly elected and do not typically vote in council meetings. The council hires the city manager and, depending on the municipality, may directly hire a few other officials, such as the city attorney. In cities with a manager, the manager acts as the head executive officer of the city and is responsible for municipal employees and implementing policy.[33] Smaller municipalities are more likely to not employ a manager.[34]

See also


  1. ^ a b "North Carolina Constitution of 1776". Yale Law School. 1776. Retrieved September 4, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "The 1868 constitution". Learn NC. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "Constitution of North Carolina, 1971". North Carolina General Assembly.
  4. ^ a b "Executive Branch". Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  5. ^ Marshall, Ellaine F. (2001). North Carolina Manual. North Carolina Secretary of State.
  6. ^ "Article III of the North Carolina State Constitution of 1971". 1971. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  7. ^ Orth, John V. (2006). "Council of State". NCPedia. North Carolina Government & Heritage Library. Retrieved August 4, 2022.
  8. ^ "NC Governor Roy Cooper". Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  9. ^ a b c "N.C. State Statutes, County and Municipal Ordinances". University of North Carolina Kathrine R. Everett Law Library. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  10. ^ "North Carolina Register". Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  11. ^ called the House of Commons until 1868 when it was change in the North Carolina Constitution
  12. ^ "North Carolina Government". NC.GOV. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  13. ^ "Session Laws". Archived from the original on December 6, 2019. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  14. ^ Fleer 1994, p. 132.
  15. ^ a b "Judicial Branch". The State of North Carolina. Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  16. ^ a b Williams, Wiley J. (2006). "Judiciary, State". NCPedia. North Carolina Government & Heritage Library. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  17. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, p. 128.
  18. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 130, 133.
  19. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, p. 130, 138.
  20. ^ Brinkley, Martin H. "Supreme Court of North Carolina: A Brief History". North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. Archived from the original on March 21, 2008. Retrieved July 16, 2008.
  21. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 169–170.
  22. ^ a b Whittaker, Gordon (June 2012). Local Government in North Carolina (PDF) (4th ed.). Chapel Hill: UNC School of Government and the North Carolina City and County Management Association. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  23. ^ a b Stick, David (2006). "Towns and Cities". NCPedia. North Carolina Government & Heritage Library. Retrieved August 4, 2022.
  24. ^ a b c d "How NC Cities Work". North Carolina League of Municipalities. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  25. ^ Cooper & Knotts 2012, pp. 214–215.
  26. ^ Cooper & Knotts 2012, p. 215.
  27. ^ Cooper & Knotts 2012, pp. 209, 213.
  28. ^ Cooper & Knotts 2012, p. 213.
  29. ^ Cooper & Knotts 2012, pp. 213–214.
  30. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, p. 170.
  31. ^ Nagem, Sarah (July 7, 2022). "Scotland County lowers property tax rate, but it's still the highest in North Carolina". Border Belt Independent. Retrieved July 20, 2022.
  32. ^ Cooper & Knotts 2012, p. 216.
  33. ^ Cooper & Knotts 2012, pp. 209, 211–212.
  34. ^ Cooper & Knotts 2012, p. 209.

Works cited