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The US Constitution uses the term "State Legislature" in several places:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

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The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

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No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

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The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

However, I can't find where the states are actually required to have a legislature in the first place, and what qualifies as a "legislature" (are democratic elections required?). Where is this specified?

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    Does Article IV, Section 4 cover this with "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,"? Or does that just shift what you're looking for? – Bobson Apr 11 '16 at 20:15
  • @Bobson my reading of that was that the "United States" as an organization is guaranteeing a "Republican Form of Government" to the individual states (i.e. the Federal government). – charl Apr 11 '16 at 21:41
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    @charl That is not the meaning. The provision isn't saying the federal government will be republican, it's saying that all states must be republican. A state may not be admitted unless it has a republican government, and if a state changes out its republican government for a nonrepublican government then the feds are supposed to intervene and stop that. – cpast Apr 11 '16 at 22:41
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The U.S. constitution does not need to mandate and define a "State Legislature" any more than it needs to mandate and define a court system in the states. The states predate the Constitution and are defined as political entities with a functioning legal and judicial system. That means, in order to be a political entity, it must have some organization that passes laws, just as it must have some organization that enforces laws or adjudicates disputes.

This is at the most basic level and as such does not need to be in the constitution. Restrictions on the methods and means of the legislature can be set up, but that is a different question.

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However, I can't find where the states are actually required to have a legislature in the first place, and what qualifies as a "legislature" (are democratic elections required?). Where is this specified?

It isn't specified. Whether or not a democratic election is required is largely untested, although the "One Person One Vote" principle implies democratic elections are required based on Section 2 of the 14th amendment. Section 4 of Article IV of the constitution says that it must be a republican government.

There was a recent Supreme Court decision that allowed states to delegate redistricting power to a commission, even though that is supposed to be a power of the state legislature. Under that theory, any law making assembly would be sufficient if it is part of a republican government.

  • I find the rationale in Reynolds v Sims dubious. Nothing mandates that states have democratic forms of government, and everyone who ratified the Constitution--by definition--affirmed the legitimacy of a republican form of government that treats political subdivisions as a unit of representation without regard for their populations. Is there something I'm not seeing, or was the Court simply playing politics? – supercat Jul 15 '16 at 17:31
  • Bingo, exactly right. Mandates a republican form of government. – user11168 Feb 8 '17 at 15:29
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The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government (Constitution Article IV, sect 4)

I suppose technically this is saying that the federal government guarantees to each state that all the other states in the union will have Republican Forms of Government, but the extension is obvious. Next legal question is to argue over what constitutes a "Republican Form", but there being an assembly of representatives of the people seems pretty fundamental to that.

  • In a republican form of government, the executive and lawmakers represent the people. – Rick Ryker Dec 20 '18 at 4:45

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