The United States Attorney General (A.G.) is the head of the U.S. Department of Justice, a member of the U.S. president's Cabinet, and the chief lawyer of the federal government of the United States.
Under the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution, the officeholder is nominated by the President of the United States and appointed with the advice and consent of the United States Senate. In cases of the federal death penalty, the power to seek the death penalty rests with the U.S. Attorney General.
The 85th and current United States Attorney General is William Barr.
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".
The Department of Justice was established in 1870 to support the Attorney 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 generally regarded as the four most important Cabinet officials in the United States because of the significance and age 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 give resignation with effect on the Inauguration Day (January 20) of a new President. The Deputy Attorney General, who is also expected to tender their resignation, 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 the 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
Federalist (4) Democratic-Republican (5) Democratic (33) Whig (4) Republican (39)
Living former U.S. Attorneys General
As of September 2019, 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 Janet Reno on November 7, 2016 (served 1993–2001, born 1938). William Barr, who served from 1991–1993, returned to the post and is currently serving, excluding him from this list.
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
- United States Assistant Attorney General
- United States Solicitor General
- List of living former members of the United States Cabinet
- Executive Order 13787 for "Providing an Order of Succession Within the Department of Justice"