A Quick Definition of an Attorney General

Attorney General Defined:

In common law jurisdictions, the attorney general, is the primary legal advisor to the governing body. In some jurisdictions, however, the attorney general may—in addition to being the main legal advisor—possess executive responsibility for law enforcement or executive responsibility for public prosecutions.

The term, attorney general, is used to refer to any person who maintains a general power of attorney to represent a principal in all legal matters. In a common law sense, any individual who represents the state, especially in criminal prosecutions, assumes the position of attorney general.

Although governing bodies typically designate an official as the permanent or acting attorney general, anyone who represents the state in a similar manner, is referred to as such—even if the individual assumes the role of attorney general for a singular case.

The roles of an attorney general will differentiate based on country and the governing body that is represented. In the Federal Government of the United States, the Attorney General is a prestigious member of the Cabinet, who acts as head of the Department of Justice. Through this classification, the Attorney General of the United States assumes the role as the top law enforcement officer and legal aid for the government.

The Attorney General of the Federal Government is distinguished from the Solicitor General, who is a high Justice Department official responsible for representing the government before matters in the Supreme Court. That being said, in cases of exceptional importance, however, the Attorney General of the Federal Government may choose to represent the government him/herself to the Supreme Court.

In addition to the Federal Government of the United States, all individual states and territories of America possess an attorney general who operates with similar responsibilities. The majority of state attorney generals are elected through a popular vote. This voting method is held in contrast to the United States Attorney General, who is directly appointed by the President.

The United States Attorney Federal must advise the executive branch regarding legal matters as well as administering the Department of Justice. The United States Congress created the position of US Attorney General in 1789.

State Attorney General

The state attorney general is the chief legal advisor to a state’s particular government. Furthermore, the state attorney general acts as the chief law enforcement officer for the underlying state government. The roles, however, will alter based on state; in some states for instance, the attorney general will serve as the head of a state department of justice. 

State attorney Generals are elected in 43 of the 50 U.S. states; 5 are appointed by their respective state governors, one by the legislature (Maine), and one by the Supreme Court (Tennessee). Each state attorney general possesses a 4-year term; when the term is up they have the ability to run again. 

Related Topics