I put down a bunch of thoughts on the functioning of the Sanmra government today, so I thought I'd see what people thought of it. Keep in mind, this is very much a first draft--I'm sure there's a bunch of contradictions I didn't notice.
Also, yes, it's not very fair if you're not a member of one of the old, powerful families, and especially not if you're not human. It's better than it used to be, I'll say that much.
Quick note before I get to the copy-and-pasting, a "district" is a legal/political entity that basically corresponds to an "enclave"--a physical chunk of land that's hidden from the human world. Most consist of only a single settlement and surrounding land.
Legislative and Executive, Sort Of
A good place to start is by discussing the interaction between the sarda and the nuoda--roughly, the executive and legislative branches.
The nuoda, which literally translates to "voters", is akin to any number of representative legislatures in the modern world (such as the American House of Representatives). Representatives are elected from various districts (israd) and have the responsibility of passing/repealing laws, handling taxes, and taking care of a number of administrative duties, as well as regulating interactions between districts. There's two elected from every district, traditionally a man and a woman (but not always). Theoretically all citizens can vote--citizens being any dalar above the age of majority who have an association with a family/clan/house--but in practice the large and powerful families tend to submit their votes as a homogeneous block, meaning they have a lot of control.
Then there's the sarda The sarda is the formal head of the Sanmra government, and could be considered a sort of benevolent dictator or non-hereditary monarch. While they're frequently referred to in the singular, it's actually a pair of leaders. Like with the nuoda, it's traditionally a man and a woman. Commonly it's a husband and wife, but historically there's been siblings, cousins, or even two totally unrelated people.
The sarda technically has absolute control of the government. And virtually everything, if they really wanted. The military is under their control, they're the head of the judicial system, and they can veto or override any proclamations of the nuoda that they want. Obviously in practice this doesn't actually happen, or the nuoda wouldn't still exist. They generally fulfill a similar role to a prime minister or president: they confirm the laws and taxes of the legislature, they're the supreme commander of the military, and they're the supreme representative of the nation to other nations. But in times of emergency--or, occasionally, if the sarda is terrible people, whenever they feel like it--they do have the authority to make whatever laws they want, and enforce them to boot. Oh, and it's a lifetime position.
One of the major checks on their power, though, is that the nuoda elects them to begin with. While they tend to come from powerful families--the Kaorn house has had so many sarda in its history that it's often called "leten ni sarda" (the Family of the Sarda)--it's not a hereditary position. Rather, when the old sarda dies (or one of them--in virtually all circumstances, if one of the pair survives the other, they'll abdicate), the nuoda submit nominations for the position. (no, you can't nominate yourself. Or your spouse. And everyone will look sidelong at you if you nominate someone from your house in general.) Then they all sit down, argue it out, and vote. An absolute supermajority is required to come to a decision--at least 75% of all members (not just the ones present) must agree. If none of the candidates is at that point, then they just keep on arguing it over until they pick someone.
It again requires an absolute supermajority of 75%, but it's theoretically possible to remove the sarda from office as well. It's never actually happened since those laws were put in place (prior to that point, deposing a sarda tended to be a messy business involving stabbing), but maybe someday.
So overall it's sort of a representational democracy mixed with a monarchy, or maybe like a Roman Republic-style dictatorship, only on a lifetime basis. With hopefully fewer Julius Caesars.
On a district-by-district level, there's a variety of systems, but the majority of sizable districts have a "mayor" (elected by the populace) advised by a council, each member of which has a distinct area of responsibility (overseeing the local police, for example, or public health). Some districts might just have a council with no head over it, and some small districts might just have a single leader.
Because the Sanmra, like all dalar nations, lives mostly in secret alongside human nations, there isn't really a military as a separate organization from a single organization, the kasti ("police"), that handles border patrol, police work, and, in a pinch, function as the bulk of the military. There's many departments in the overall organization, as it handles a lot of civil service, not just police work. The rank-and-file members of the organization are broadly organized in a military fashion, but they only rarely carry out any form of military action. The kasti is under the command of the sarda, but the day-to-day minutiae are handled by officials appointed by the sarda.
The real military of the Sanmra are the len and the Tasen ni Sanmra--literally, "the Army of Sanmra", but in practice, a special forces group. The len are kind of an interesting group. They have an extremely strict code of morality and honor and accept very few recruits. A bit like the idea, if not the reality, of samurai or European knights. Historically, they started as an elite group of soldiers, but split away from the main military and became an independent group. (In fact, it's arguable if they're part of the government at all--technically, they don't answer to anybody, sarda included.) Today, they guard the capital Elten and surrounding areas specifically, as well as serve as bodyguards for the sarda and nuoda, and if the kasti is the first line of defense of the nation, the len are the last. So a bit Secret Service-y.
The Tasen ni Sanmra (in Tirina commonly just called "tasen" (army). In English, often called "SSF"--Sanmra Special Forces) don't have internal authority (unless granted to them by the sarda in exceptional circumstances or times of war). Instead, they carry out missions in human nations (or sometimes other dalar nations, but let's not talk about that...). A lot of them are ex-len (either they got kicked out for breaking their strict codes or couldn't handle it and left), some are long-term kasti, and some are new recruits. Their basic goal is to protect the interest of the Sanmra, which generally translates to making sure humans don't find out about them. Sometimes they have to hunt down rogue dalar who are causing trouble... sometimes they hunt down humans who are just a little too perceptive. The majority of Sanmra spies are from this organization. They, like the kasti, are commanded by the sarda, but on a much more direct level.
Previously, it was mentioned that the sarda is/are the head of the judicial branch. There's no Supreme Court; you appeal directly to the sarda themselves. (or, let's be real, to a minor administrative assistant seventeen layers of bureaucracy away from the sarda) But prior to that point, there's some different courts you could end up in.
As in many judiciaries, there's a separation between civil and criminal court. Criminal cases are actually not tried by the general judicial system, but rather are handled directly by officials in the kasti/police. Civil cases, though, along with contracts, legal transactions, marriages, interactions between families, etc. etc. etc. are handled by the judges, the kida. Really, "judge" isn't a very good word for the role of the kida, because they're like combination judge-lawyer-notaries.
Anybody can "practice law" in the sense of charging money for legal advice, but to actually participate in courts, a person must be confirmed by the nuoda/Voters. This process generally requires a degree in law from a dalar university, as well as a recommendation from the mayor/council/other authority of the district to which they wish to be appointed. (Each district has their own rules about when they'll give a recommendation, but generally it's stuff like they must be an upstanding member of the community, they must live in the district, they must be above the age of majority, etc.) After this point, they can formally be called a "kida".
In each district, there's a number of courts/judges to which kida can be appointed (or elected--again, it's handled on a district-by-district basis). Lower courts handle basic functions such as marriages and overseeing simple contracts. Higher courts handle more delicate situations such as feuds between families, duels, and lawsuits. Non-sitting kida--and occasionally even those who do have the seat of a judge--function as lawyers, both prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Federal courts are kind of more ad hoc things. There's a handful of permanent ones in central locations/large cities, but the only court cases handled by them are when it's a civil case between citizens of two separate districts, if it's a conflict directly between the government of two districts, or if it involves the government itself--it's brought against the sarda or the military, for example. The judges for these cases are appointed directly by the nuoda, and while they may already be a sitting judge somewhere, they're intended to be an impartial observer, and thus should be from none of the districts involved in the case.
Now for how cases can get passed from court to court. If the lower courts doesn't think they can adequately deal with something--a contract dispute gets out of hand, for example--it gets kicked up to the higher courts. If they can't handle it, the presiding kida can petition the nuoda for a special federal court, or even petition the sarda directly.
As for right of appeal, only certain types of decisions can be appealed. You can technically always appeal the sarda, who are considered the supreme justices and final word, but the odds they'll actually hear the case are extremely low. Aside from that, it's again a district-by-district thing, what kinds of appeals can be made, how many, and to what courts.