United States Attorney General
The United States attorney general (AG) leads the United States Department of Justice, and is the chief lawyer of the federal government of the United States. The attorney general serves as the principal advisor to the president of the United States on all legal matters. The attorney general is a statutory member of the Cabinet of the United States.
Under the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution, the officeholder is nominated by the president of the United States, then appointed with the advice and consent of the United States Senate. The attorney general is supported by the Office of the Attorney General, which includes executive staff and several deputies.
Monty Wilkinson has been serving as the acting United States attorney general since President Joe Biden took office on January 20, 2021. Wilkinson is expected to serve as Acting Attorney General until Biden's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, is confirmed by the United States Senate.
Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789 which, among other things, established the Office of the Attorney General. The original duties of this officer were "to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the president of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments". Some of these duties have since been transferred to the United States Solicitor General and the White House Counsel.
The Department of Justice was established in 1870 to support the attorneys general in the discharge of their responsibilities.
The attorney general, the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, and the secretary of defense are regarded as the four most important Cabinet officials in the United States because of the size and importance of their respective departments.
The title "attorney general" is an example of a noun (attorney) followed by a postpositive adjective (general). "General" is a description of the type of attorney, not a title or rank in itself (as it would be in the military). Even though the attorney general (and the similarly titled solicitor general) is often referred to as "General" or "General [last name]" by senior government officials, this is considered incorrect in standard American English usage. For the same reason, the correct American English plural form is "attorneys general" rather than "attorney generals."
It is the practice for the attorney general, along with the other Cabinet secretaries and high-level political appointees of the president, to tender a resignation with effect on the Inauguration Day (January 20) of a new president. The deputy attorney general is also expected to tender a resignation, but is commonly requested to stay on and act as Attorney General pending the confirmation by the Senate of the new attorney general.
For example, on the inauguration of President Donald Trump on January 20, 2017, the then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch left her position, so then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who had also tendered her resignation, was asked to stay on to serve as Acting Attorney General until the confirmation of the new attorney general Jeff Sessions, who had been nominated for the office in November 2016 by then-President-elect Donald Trump.
List of attorneys general
Living former U.S. attorneys general
As of March 2021, there are ten living former US attorneys general, the oldest being Ramsey Clark (served 1967–1969, born 1927). The most recent attorney general to die was Dick Thornburgh on December 31, 2020 (served 1988–1991, born 1932). The most recently serving attorney general to die was Janet Reno on November 7, 2016 (served 1993–2001, born 1938).
Line of succession
U.S.C. Title 28, §508 establishes the first two positions in the line of succession, while allowing the attorney general to designate other high-ranking officers of the Department of Justice as subsequent successors. Furthermore, an Executive Order defines subsequent positions, the most recent from March 31, 2017, signed by President Donald Trump. The current line of succession is:
- United States Deputy Attorney General
- United States Associate Attorney General
- Other officers potentially designated by the attorney general (in no particular order):
- Solicitor General of the United States
- Assistant Attorney General, Antitrust Division
- Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division
- Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division
- Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division
- Assistant Attorney General, National Security Division
- Assistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division
- Assistant Attorney General, Justice Management Division
- Assistant Attorney General, Tax Division
- Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs
- Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel
- Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Policy
- Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legislative Affairs
- United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia
- United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina
- United States Attorney for the Northern District of Texas
- List of living former members of the United States Cabinet
- Executive Order 13787 for "Providing an Order of Succession Within the Department of Justice"