The U.S. Attorney General: Responsibilities and Impact

February 13, 2015 | Charles Bowen

With Loretta Lynch’s delayed confirmation dominating recent newscycles, it may be informative to review the precise reponsibilities of the United States Attorney General and how his or her actions and decisions may personally affect you as a citizen or businessowner.Loretta Lynch United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Attorney General nominee

Attorney General Formal Responsibilities

The Attorney General holds the power of attorney to represent the federal government in all legal matters.  In other words, the Attorney General serves as the federal government’s private counsel and attorney as well as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. The formal responsibilities of the office include:

  • Chief legal counsel to the President and the heads of all executive departments.

  • Prosecutor for selected cases involving the government or violations of federal law.

  • Chief Officer of the Department of Justice, which is responsible for:

    • Enforcement of federal laws.

    • Legal counsel in federal cases.

    • Examination of alleged violations of federal laws.

    • Interpretation of the laws governing the executive departments.

    • Head of federal jails and penal institutions.

    • Supervision of United States attorneys and marshals in their respective judicial districts.

Each state also has an Attorney General which advises and represents all state agencies.  State Attorney Generals also are tasked with protecting the rights of consumers within their territory.  You can read more about the Georgia Attorney General and our relationship with their office here

Impact of Attorney General

Most importantly, the Attorney General has the discretion take on projects for which he or she has a particular passion or are the subject of great national and international discussion and debate. Sitting Attorney General Eric Holder actively voiced opinions regarding the practice of waterboarding as torture and the continued operation of the federal detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Loretta Lynch has cited human trafficking and cybercrime as primary areas in which she would focus her attention.

Like decisions made by the Supreme Court, the actions of the Attorney General can have a direct impact on specific cases (i.e., the decision not to bring charges against Wall Street executives) or trickle-down effects on public policy (i.e., marijuana laws). In his six years in office, Eric Holder has been involved with investigating and policing a variety of topics, including the use of force by police, voter identification laws, financial regulations, drug policy, immigration, constitutional right of privacy, environmental policy and the defense of some of President Obama’s more scrutinized executive actions (including Obamacare). A list of the Department of Justice’s actions under Eric Holder can be found here.

How the Attorney General is Selected

Department of Justice seal

The Attorney General serves in the Cabinet of the President of the United States. The Attorney General is nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate. Serving at the privilege of the President, the Attorney General can be removed from the office at any time and there are no designated terms. If charged with treason, bribery or other high crimes or misdemeanors, the Attorney General is subject to impeachment by the House of Representatives and trial in the Senate.

Notable Attorney Generals include John Ashcroft, Janet Reno and Robert F. Kennedy.

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