North Carolina General Assembly

Coordinates: 35°46′59.53″N 78°38′20.24″W / 35.7832028°N 78.6389556°W / 35.7832028; -78.6389556
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North Carolina General Assembly
Coat of arms or logo
Seal of the North Carolina General Assembly
House of Representatives
FoundedNovember 17, 1775
(248 years ago)
Mark Robinson (R)
since January 9, 2021
Phil Berger (R)
since January 26, 2011
Tim Moore (R)
since January 15, 2015
Seats170 voting members
  • 50 senators
  • 120 representatives
Senate political groups
  •   Republican (30)
  •   Democratic (20)
House of Representatives political groups
Last general election
November 8, 2022
Next general election
November 5, 2024
Meeting place
North Carolina Legislative Building

The North Carolina General Assembly is the bicameral legislature of the state government of North Carolina. The legislature consists of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The General Assembly meets in the North Carolina State Legislative Building in Raleigh.[1]

The General Assembly drafts and legislates the state laws of North Carolina, also known as the General Statutes. The General Assembly is a bicameral legislature, consisting of the North Carolina House of Representatives (formerly called the North Carolina House of Commons until 1868) and the North Carolina Senate. Since 1868, the House has had 120 members, while the Senate has had 50 members.[2] There are no term limits for either chamber.

Both chambers have two-year terms and are currently controlled by the Republican Party, by three-fifths majority necessary to override vetoes.


Colonial period[edit]

The North Carolina legislature traces its roots to the first assembly for the "County of Albemarle", which was convened in 1665 by Governor William Drummond.[3][4] Albemarle County was the portion of the British colony of Carolina (under the control of the "Lords Proprietors" before becoming a royal province in 1729) that would eventually become North Carolina.[5]

From approximately 1666 to 1697, the governor, his council, and representatives of various precincts and towns, elected by male freeholders, sat together as a unicameral legislature. By 1697, this evolved into a bicameral body, with the governor and his council as the upper house, and the House of Burgesses as the elected lower house. The House, sometimes known simply as "the Assembly", could only meet when called by the governor, but it was allowed to set its own rules and to elect its own Speaker. The House also controlled the salary of the governor and withheld that salary when the governor displeased a majority of the House. Naturally, conflicts between the governor and the legislature were frequent.

The Governor's Palace in New Bern is where the provincial era General Assembly met from 1770 until 1775.

According to one early compilation of the "Laws of North Carolina",[6] the first "General Biennial Assembly" was held "at the House of Capt. Richard Sanderson, at Little-River begun on the 17th day of November, 1715 and continued by several Adjournments, until the 19th Day of January, 1715 [sic]".[7]

Revolution and early statehood[edit]

North Carolina State House 1794–1810
North Carolina State House 1811–1831

In 1774 and 1775, the people of the colony elected a provincial congress, independent of the royal governor, as the American Revolution began. Most of its members were also members of what would be the last House of Burgesses. There would be five provincial congresses. The fifth Congress approved the first constitution in 1776.

With the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, the United States became an independent nation with different legislatures in each colony. Because of the history of distrust of the executive, the North Carolina constitution firmly established the General Assembly, as it was now called, as the most powerful branch of the state government. The bicameral legislature, whose members would all be elected by the people, would itself elect all the officers of the executive and judicial branches. As William S. Powell wrote in North Carolina: A History, "The legislative branch henceforth would have the upper hand. The governor would be the creature of the assembly, elected by it and removable by it. ... The governor could not take any important step without the advice and consent of the 'council of state,' and he had no voice in the appointment or removal of [council of state members]."

This constitution was not submitted to a vote of the people. The Congress simply adopted it and elected Richard Caswell, the last president of the Congress, as acting governor until the new legislature was elected and seated.[8][9] The constitution provided for more rights for freedmen and free men of color. The 9th Amendment on the 1776 constitution states, "That no freeman shall be convicted of any crime, but by the unanimous verdict of a jury of good lawful men, in open court, as heretofore used."[9][10] Free men of color with sufficient property were allowed to vote.

The first North Carolina General Assembly was convened on April 7, 1777, in New Bern, North Carolina. It consisted of Senate with one member from each county of 38 existing counties and one district (Washington District which later became part of the Southwest Territory and then Tennessee) and a House of Commons with two members representing each of the existing 38 counties, plus one member from each of the large towns/districts (Edenton, Halifax, Hillsborough, New Bern, Salisbury, and Wilmington Districts). Districts continued to be represented in the Senate until 1835. Only land-owning (100 acres (0.4 km2) for the House of Commons and 300 acres (1.2 km2) for the Senate), Protestant men could serve.[9]

The first 18 General Assemblies met in various locations, including New Bern, Hillsboro, Halifax, Smithfield, and Wake Court House, Fayetteville. It was not until 1794 that the General Assembly met in the new state capital, Raleigh where it has met ever since.[11]

Following Nat Turner's slave rebellion of 1831, the state legislature restricted many of the rights the 1776 Constitution provided for black people, making it illegal to teach a slave how to read or write. They also narrowed rights of free people of color, rescinding their franchise and the right to bear arms, and forbidding them from attending school or learning to read and write, as well as forbidding them from preaching in public.[12][9]

North Carolina Capitol, home to the General Assembly from 1840 until 1963

The Constitutional Convention of 1835 retained the 1776 Constitution, but made several amendments to it. Going forward, the governor would be elected by the people, but the legislature elected all other officials, including US Senators. Amendments set the number of senators at 50 and the number of commoners (representatives to the House) at 120. Senators were to be elected from districts representing approximately equal numbers of citizens, rather than by geographic counties. Members of the House were still elected by county, but more populous counties were entitled to more representatives.

The North Carolina General Assembly met from 1861 to 1865 as part of the Confederate States of America.

Reconstruction Era[edit]

In 1868, a new constitution was passed by the Reconstruction era legislature, a biracial body dominated by Republicans. It changed the name of the House of Commons to the House of Representatives. It established the office of lieutenant governor. Previously, the speaker of the Senate was the constitutional successor to the governor in case of death or resignation. Property qualifications for holding office were abolished in order to enlarge opportunity. Finally, the legislature made executive officers and judges subject to popular election rather than appointment by the legislature.

African-American men were first elected to the state legislature in 1868, including Henry Epps, Abraham H. Galloway, and John A. Hyman in the Senate and Parker D. Robbins, Wilson Cary Nicholas, B. W. Morris, A. W. Stevens, John S. Leary, Isham Sweat, Henry C. Cherry, John H. Williamson, A.A. Crawford, Cuffie Mayo, W. T. J. Hayes, Ivey Hutchings, John S. W. Eagles, George W. Price, Thomas A. Sykes, James H. Harris, William Cawthorn, and Richard Falkner in the House. Despite efforts by Red Shirts and other white Democratic paramilitary groups to disrupt Republican meetings and suppress black voting in order to ensure the Democratic takeover, some African Americans continued to be elected in the 19th century, especially to local offices. But shortly before the turn of the century, the Democrats regained control of the state legislature (after a biracial coalition between Republicans and Populists had briefly held power) and passed laws to create barriers to voter registration through poll taxes, literacy tests and other devices.[13][14][15][16][17]

Applied subjectively by white administrators, these methods effectively disenfranchised most blacks in the state. Black voters were eliminated by 1904. An estimated 75,000 black male citizens lost the vote.[18][19] African Americans were closed out of politics in North Carolina for decades, with most not regaining the ability to vote until after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and federal overview and enforcement.

20th century[edit]

Lillian Exum Clement became the first female member of the General Assembly in 1921.[20]

As was the case in other states where rural legislators hung on to power despite changes in state demographics, North Carolina eventually had to redefine its method of electing house members and to reapportion congressional seats, which was supposed to be done after every decennial census. At a time of civil rights legislation to end segregation (Civil Rights Act of 1964) and enforce the constitutional right to vote for African Americans and other ethnic groups (Voting Rights Act of 1965), the US Supreme Court made rulings that resulted in corrections to state legislature representation and apportionment in several states.

In February 1963, the General Assembly began meeting in the North Carolina State Legislative Building.[21]

Starting in 1966 (in the wake of Reynolds v. Sims, a US Supreme Court case establishing the principle of one man, one vote), members of the North Carolina State House were required to be elected from districts defined on the basis of roughly equal population, rather than from geographic counties. The county basis had resulted in a longstanding rural bias in the legislature. The new urban populations, including minorities and immigrants, were historically underrepresented in terms of legislative seats and funding, although the state's demographics and population had become increasingly urbanized. The court's ruling required changes also in other states with similar practices. The changes allowed full representation for the first time from some urban and more densely settled areas. It also meant that counties with low populations lost the chance to elect a resident member to the legislature.

Recent history[edit]

In 2001, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that multi-member legislative districts were unconstitutional.[22]


The General Assembly has 170 elected members, with 120 members of the North Carolina House of Representatives and 50 members of the North Carolina Senate.[23] Each represents a district.[2] Each house has the sole power to judge the election and qualification of its own respective members.[24] Legislators' are elected biennially in even-numbered years. Their terms of office begin at the start of the January following the year of their election.[25] All legislators swear a state constitutionally-prescribed oath of office.[26] In the event of the vacancy of a seat, the governor is constitutionally obligated to appoint a person nominated by the previous incumbent's political party's respective district executive committee to fill the seat.[27]

The assembly is styled after the citizen legislature model, with legislating considered a part-time job.[28][29][30] Members receive a base salary of $13,951 per year,[31] supplemented by per-diem payments and travel reimbursements.[32] Increases in legislative pay adopted by the assembly cannot take effect until after a succeeding election.[33]

Structure and process[edit]

Each house of the legislature has eight leadership roles. The Senate's leadership is made up of the president of the Senate, president pro tempore, majority leader, majority whip, majority caucus chair, minority leader, minority whip, and minority caucus chair.[34] Per the constitution, the office of president of the Senate is held ex officio by the lieutenant governor.[35] In this capacity they direct the debate on bills and maintain order in that house,[36][37] but have little influence over its workflow.[38] They cannot cast a vote in the Senate except to break ties.[39] The president pro tempore is elected by the full Senate. They appoint the body's committees. All other leadership positions filled by the decision of party caucuses.[34]

The leadership of House of Representatives is analogous to that in the Senate, except that in place of a president and president pro tempore, the body is led by a speaker and speaker pro tempore. The speaker is in charge of appointing the body's committees. Both officers are elected by the full house from among its members, with the rest determined by party caucuses.[34][a] In the event of an even political divide in the House, co-speakers may be elected in lieu of a single speaker.[41]

Standing committees in each house consider introduced legislation, hold hearings, and offer amendments.[41] All bills are examined by a body's respective rules committee before being brought before a full house for a vote.[42]


The constitution of North Carolina vests the state's legislative power in the General Assembly;[43] the General Assembly writes state laws/statutes.[24][2] Legislation in North Carolina can either be in the form of general laws or special/local laws. General laws apply to the entire state, while local laws apply only to specific counties or municipalities.[44][b] The constitution requires that all effective laws be styled "The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:", with only the words following that phrase being legally operative.[24] The legally valid language of each passed bill is punctuated by the ratification certificate, consisting of the obligatory signatures of the presiding officers of each house.[46] The assembly has the power to levy taxes[47] and adopts the state budget.[48] The constitution enumerates unique procedure for the passing of revenue legislation; all revenue bills must be read three times with each reading occurring on a different day, journal records of votes must include the name of each legislator and how they voted, and all revenue bills must appropriate money for a specific purpose.[49] The legislative power of the assembly must be exercised by the whole body and not devolved upon a portion of the whole, and actions taken during one session of the assembly can be undone by a succeeding session.[50] The governor signs bills passed by the General Assembly of which they approve into law and are empowered to veto bills of which they disapprove.[51] A veto can be overridden by a three-fifths majority vote of the assembly.[52] Local bills and congressional and legislative reapportionment decisions are not subject to gubernatorial veto. Aside from regular legislation, the two houses of the General Assembly can also issue joint resolutions which are not subject to veto.[53]

The assembly wields oversight authority over the state's administrative bureaucracy.[54] It can alter gubernatorial executive orders concerning the organization of state agencies by joint resolution.[53] Its Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations has the authority to seize state agency documents and inspect facilities of agencies and contractors with the state.[55] All legislative committees are empowered to subpoena the testimony of witnesses and documents.[56][57] The constitution allows for the General Assembly to provide for the filling of executive offices not already provided for in the constitution.[58] The body is also empowered to resolve contested elections for state executive officers by joint ballot.[24] Its advice and consent is required for the installation of some state agency heads. The assembly can also influence the bureaucracy through its power to create for dissolve agencies or countermand administrative rules by writing laws and by its decisions in appropriations.[54] The constitution empowers the House of Representatives to impeach elected state officials by simple majority vote. In the event an official is impeached, the Senate holds a trial, and can convict an official by two-thirds majority vote and remove them from office.[59] The General Assembly can also, by a two-thirds majority vote, determine the governor or a judge mentally or physically incapable of serving.[53]

The General Assembly has the sole power to propose amendments to the state constitution.[60] If a proposed amendment receives the support of three-fifths of the House and the Senate, it is scheduled for ratification by a statewide referendum. State constitutional amendments and state legislative votes on the ratification of federal constitutional amendments are not subject to gubernatorial veto.[61][53]


The General Assembly's sessions are convened according to standards prescribed by the state constitution and state statute.[62] The General Assembly meets in regular session—or the "long session"—beginning in January of each odd-numbered year, and adjourns to reconvene the following even-numbered year for what is called the "short session". Though there is no limit on the length of any session, the "long session" typically lasts for 6 months, and the "short session" typically lasts for 6 weeks.[2] The governor may call the General Assembly into extraordinary session after consulting the Council of State and is required to convene the assembly in specific circumstances to review vetoed legislation.[63] A majority of the Council of State can call the legislature into session to consider the governor's mental capacity to serve.[64]

A basic majority of the members of a house constitute a quorum to do business.[62] When in session, both Houses of the legislature typically meet on Monday evenings and in the middle of the day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Legislative committees usually convene in the mornings and late afternoons.[2] Both houses are empowered to temporarily adjourn for three days or less at their own discretion.[24] The proceedings of each house are constitutionally-required to be reported in official journals and published at the end of each session.[33] The records of individual lawmakers are not subject to the state's public records law.[65]

Administration and support agencies[edit]

North Carolina Legislative Office Building in Raleigh

Administrative support of the General Assembly is overseen by the Legislative Services Commission, a panel comprising five members of each house.[2] As of October 2023, the assembly relies on over 600 support staff who work in the Legislative Building and the Legislative Office Building.[66] Every legislator is assigned at least one legislative assistant or clerk, who manage legislators' schedules, manage communications with constituents, and offer advice on policy issues. Some legislators employ additional staff.[67] The General Assembly's members and facilities are guarded by the North Carolina General Assembly Police.[68]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The selection of a speaker from among the House's members is not strictly constitutionally required, but thus far has been the case.[40]
  2. ^ State jurisprudence is not exact on the delineation between and general and local legislation, though since 1987 state courts have judged whether a law affects "general public interests and concerns" to determine its status.[45]


  1. ^ "State Capitol of NC". NC Department of Cultural Resources. Archived from the original on April 18, 2008. Retrieved August 4, 2006.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Structure of the North Carolina General Assembly". Official North Carolina General Assembly Website. Retrieved November 19, 2019.
  3. ^ "Marker: A-13, First Assembly in Albemarle County". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  4. ^ Powell, William S., ed. (1958). Ye Countie of Albemarle in Carolina: A Collection of Documents, 1664-1675.
  5. ^ Baxley, Laura Young Baxley; Powell, William S. (2006). "Albemarle County". Retrieved November 19, 2019.
  6. ^ (Iredell 1791)
  7. ^ (Iredell 1791, p. 9). All marginal referenced to year of enactment of various chapters reference 1715, therefore the obvious error in the year maybe presumed to be the year of adjournment rather than the year the session convened.
  8. ^ William S. Powell (1988). North Carolina: A History. University of North Carolina Press.
  9. ^ a b c d "North Carolina Constitution of 1776". Yale Law School. 1776. Retrieved September 4, 2019.
  10. ^ "9th Amendment to the 1776 North Carolina Constitutions".
  11. ^ Connor, R.D.D. (1913). A Manual of North Carolina (PDF). Raleigh: North Carolina Historical Commission. p. 453–. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  12. ^ "North Carolina legislation". Archived from the original on October 26, 2014. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  13. ^ Kousser, J. Morgan (1974). The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880-1910. Yale Historical Publications. p. 104.
  14. ^ "North Carolina History Project "Fusion Politics".
  15. ^ "The North Carolina Collection, UNC Libraries, The North Carolina Election of 1898". Archived from the original on April 27, 2009. Retrieved May 17, 2016.
  16. ^ Lewis, J.D. "North Carolina House of Representatives, 1868". Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  17. ^ Lewis, J.D. "North Carolina State Senate, 1868". Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  18. ^ Shaw, Albert, ed. (July–December 1900). "The American Monthly Review of Reviews". Review of Reviews. XXII: 274.
  19. ^ Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 17, 2000, pp. 12-13
  20. ^ "First Step". Our State. April 28, 2011. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  21. ^ Norris, David A. (2006). "General Assembly". NCPedia. North Carolina Government & Heritage Library. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  22. ^ Bitzer 2021, pp. 84–85.
  23. ^ Fain, Travis (January 27, 2023). "Bills filed, votes to come. Here's how your NC General Assembly works". WRAL-TV. Capitol Broadcasting Company. Retrieved November 11, 2023.
  24. ^ a b c d e Orth & Newby 2013, p. 104.
  25. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 96–97, 99.
  26. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 101, 165.
  27. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, p. 100.
  28. ^ Osborne, Molly (July 28, 2023). "Does North Carolina have a full-time legislature?". North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  29. ^ Vitaglione, Grace (September 20, 2023). "NC politics still a tough play for millennials and Gen Z". Carolina Public Press. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  30. ^ Murphy, Brian (March 12, 2022). "NC lawmakers set record with long session. None like it, but what's the solution?". The News & Observer. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  31. ^ Norcross, Jack (May 18, 2022). "North Carolina legislators among lowest paid in the US". WCNC Charlotte. WCNC-TV. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  32. ^ Vaughan, Dawn Baumgartner (February 14, 2023). "How do NC lawmakers compare to the rest of the state's population? What the data shows". The News & Observer. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  33. ^ a b Orth & Newby 2013, p. 103.
  34. ^ a b c Cooper & Knotts 2012, p. 163.
  35. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, p. 122.
  36. ^ North Carolina Manual 2011, p. 159.
  37. ^ "Lieutenant Governor". North Carolina General Assembly. Retrieved August 22, 2022.
  38. ^ "Lt. Gov. Dan Forest". WRAL. Capitol Broadcasting Company. January 9, 2013. Retrieved August 27, 2022.
  39. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 99, 122.
  40. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, p. 102.
  41. ^ a b "Legislative Branch". NCPedia. North Carolina Government & Heritage Library. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  42. ^ Vaughan, Dawn Baumgartner (January 20, 2023). "These are the most powerful people deciding what bills become law in North Carolina". The News & Observer. Retrieved November 19, 2023.
  43. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 95–96.
  44. ^ Lawrence, David M. (2007). "The County as a Body Politic and Corporate". NCPedia. North Carolina Government & Heritage Library. Retrieved November 19, 2023.
  45. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, p. 111.
  46. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 106–107.
  47. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, p. 55.
  48. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, p. 118.
  49. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 104, 108–109.
  50. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, p. 96.
  51. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 101, 104–105.
  52. ^ Cooper & Knotts 2012, p. 142.
  53. ^ a b c d Orth & Newby 2013, p. 107.
  54. ^ a b Cooper & Knotts 2012, p. 170.
  55. ^ Fain, Travis (November 10, 2023). "State agencies' plan for legislature's new investigation powers: Ask a lawyer". WRAL-TV. Capitol Broadcasting Company. Retrieved November 20, 2023.
  56. ^ Fain, Travis (February 20, 2018). "General Assembly leaders hint at subpoena over pipeline fund". WRAL-TV. Capitol Broadcasting Company. Retrieved November 20, 2023.
  57. ^ Broughton, Melissa (February 24, 2017). "As senators subpoena Cooper cabinet pick, experts weigh legal options, potential outcomes". NC Newsline. Retrieved November 20, 2023.
  58. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 117, 122.
  59. ^ Sáenz, Hunter (February 11, 2021). "VERIFY: Is there an impeachment process in North Carolina?". WCNC Charlotte. WCNC-TV. Retrieved November 14, 2023.
  60. ^ Doyle, Steve (August 9, 2023). "Could North Carolina voters change the process for adopting constitutional amendments? Check out the various practices". Fox 8 WGHP. Nexstar Media Group. Retrieved November 20, 2023.
  61. ^ Anderson, Bryan (March 16, 2023). "Cooper's Veto Predicament". The Assembly. Retrieved March 16, 2023.
  62. ^ a b "When is the General Assembly in Session?". North Carolina General Assembly. Retrieved November 6, 2023.
  63. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 120–121.
  64. ^ Orth & Newby 2013, pp. 101, 125.
  65. ^ Vaughan, Dawn Baumgartner (October 16, 2023). "How 'a couple of very powerful individuals' gave themselves more power in NC budget". The News & Observer. Retrieved November 19, 2023.
  66. ^ Vaughan, Dawn Baumgartner; Raynor, David (October 27, 2023). "How much do NC General Assembly employees make? What raises did they get? See the data". The News & Observer. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  67. ^ Lu, Jazper (July 27, 2023). "Are NC legislators allowed to date staff members? Here's what their rules say". The News & Observer. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  68. ^ McDonald, Thomasi (September 12, 2017). "Why is there a special police car parked each day in front of the General Assembly?". The News & Observer. Retrieved November 12, 2023.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]

35°46′59.53″N 78°38′20.24″W / 35.7832028°N 78.6389556°W / 35.7832028; -78.6389556