In the United States, the office of the attorney general acts as the chief legal officer for the state or territory, and one attorney general acts on behalf of the federal government. An attorney general advises his government's top executive and represents the government in civil and criminal legal matters.
Every state has established the role of attorney general, all of whom are responsible for a wide range of duties. An attorney general acts as the head of the Department of Justice for his state, the chief legal counsel in all civil and criminal litigation on behalf of the state, and advisor to the governor and state legislature. The attorney general also oversees the activities of local sheriff's departments, district attorneys and other law-enforcement agencies.
Much like at the state level, U.S. territories also have their own attorneys general. The attorneys general for territories such as Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are the heads of each location's Justice department. Depending on the territory, there may also be additional duties placed on these officials. For instance, the attorney general of Puerto Rico is tasked with investigating complaints from the public regarding the professional conduct of attorneys in the territory.
The Office of the Attorney General was formed after the Judiciary Act of 1789. This position holds immense power and responsibility, having transformed over time into becoming the head of the Department of Justice and the chief law-enforcement officer of the entire federal government. When called upon, the attorney general will lead investigations into federal civil rights violations. He also acts as the chief legal counsel to the President of the United States, as well as the heads of his executive departments. In extreme cases, he may also appear before the Supreme Court. Edmund Jennings Randolph was the first person to serve in this esteemed position when he was nominated by President George Washington in 1789. He remained in office until 1794 when he was appointed Secretary of State. Since then, an additional 81 citizens have gone on to serve as the federal attorney general, including Eric Holder, Jr. who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Ascending to the office of attorney general requires a combination of education, legal experience and political savvy. While the exact requirements may vary from state to state, generally both a bachelor's and law degree are required. Residency and minimum-age requirements are also common. At the federal level, the attorney general is nominated by the President and approved by the Senate. In 43 states and the territory of Guam, the attorney general is democratically elected. In Tennessee, the attorney general is selected by the state supreme court. In Maine, the attorney general is selected by the state legislature by way of a secret ballot. The attorneys general in Hawaii, Alaska, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Wyoming are each appointed by each state's governor. The same holds true for the territories of American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Washington, D.C. is the only U.S. area in which the attorney general is selected by a mayor.
- Nebraska Attorney General's Office: About the Office
- California Voter Foundation: Attorney General
- Office of the Attorney General: Function
- The United States Department of Justice: About the Office
- The United States Department of Justice: Meet the Attorney General
- State of Connecticut General Assembly: States' Qualifications for Attorney General
- The United States Department of Justice: Edmund Jennings Randolph
- National Association of Attorneys General: Elections for Attorney General to Take Place in 30 States
- The Washington Post: Justice Dept. to probe Ferguson police force
- Photo Credit Mark Poprocki/iStock/Getty Images
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