United States Attorney General
|United States Attorney General|
Seal of the Department of Justice
Flag of the United States Attorney General
|United States Department of Justice|
|Style||Mr. Attorney General|
|Reports to||President of the United States|
|Seat||Department of Justice Headquarters|
|Appointer||President of the United States|
with Senate advice and consent
|Term length||No Fixed Term|
|Constituting instrument||28 U.S.C. § 503|
|Formation||September 26, 1789|
|First holder||Edmund Randolph|
|Deputy||United States Deputy Attorney General|
|Salary||Executive Schedule, Level I|
The United States Attorney General (AG) is the head of the United States Department of Justice, the chief lawyer of the federal government of the United States, and a member of the Cabinet of the United States.
Under the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution, the officeholder is nominated through the power of appointment 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.
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 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 generally 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 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.[a]
List of attorneys general
|No.||Portrait||Name||State of residence||Took office||Left office||President(s)|
|1||Edmund Randolph||Virginia||September 26, 1789||January 26, 1794||George Washington|
|2||William Bradford||Pennsylvania||January 27, 1794||August 23, 1795|
|3||Charles Lee||Virginia||December 10, 1795||February 19, 1801|
|4||Levi Lincoln Sr.||Massachusetts||March 5, 1801||March 2, 1805||Thomas Jefferson|
|5||John Breckinridge||Kentucky||August 7, 1805||December 14, 1806|
|6||Caesar Augustus Rodney||Delaware||January 20, 1807||December 10, 1811|
|7||William Pinkney||Maryland||December 11, 1811||February 9, 1814|
|8||Richard Rush||Pennsylvania||February 10, 1814||November 12, 1817|
|9||William Wirt||Virginia||November 13, 1817||March 4, 1829||James Monroe|
|John Quincy Adams|
|10||John Macpherson Berrien||Georgia||March 9, 1829||July 19, 1831||Andrew Jackson|
|11||Roger B. Taney||Maryland||July 20, 1831||November 14, 1833|
|12||Benjamin Franklin Butler||New York||November 15, 1833||July 4, 1838|
|Martin Van Buren|
|13||Felix Grundy||Tennessee||July 5, 1838||January 10, 1840|
|14||Henry D. Gilpin||Pennsylvania||January 11, 1840||March 4, 1841|
|15||John J. Crittenden
|Kentucky||March 5, 1841||September 12, 1841||William Henry Harrison|
|16||Hugh S. Legaré||South Carolina||September 13, 1841||June 20, 1843|
|17||John Nelson||Maryland||July 1, 1843||March 4, 1845|
|18||John Y. Mason||Virginia||March 5, 1845||October 16, 1846||James K. Polk|
|19||Nathan Clifford||Maine||October 17, 1846||March 17, 1848|
|20||Isaac Toucey||Connecticut||June 21, 1848||March 4, 1849|
|21||Reverdy Johnson||Maryland||March 8, 1849||July 21, 1850||Zachary Taylor|
|22||John J. Crittenden
|Kentucky||July 22, 1850||March 4, 1853||Millard Fillmore|
|23||Caleb Cushing||Massachusetts||March 7, 1853||March 4, 1857||Franklin Pierce|
|24||Jeremiah S. Black||Pennsylvania||March 6, 1857||December 16, 1860||James Buchanan|
|25||Edwin Stanton||Pennsylvania||December 20, 1860||March 4, 1861|
|26||Edward Bates||Missouri||March 5, 1861||November 24, 1864||Abraham Lincoln|
|27||James Speed||Kentucky||December 2, 1864||July 22, 1866|
|28||Henry Stanbery||Ohio||July 23, 1866||July 16, 1868|
|29||William M. Evarts||New York||July 17, 1868||March 4, 1869|
|30||Ebenezer R. Hoar||Massachusetts||March 5, 1869||November 22, 1870||Ulysses S. Grant|
|31||Amos T. Akerman||Georgia||November 23, 1870||December 13, 1871|
|32||George Henry Williams||Oregon||December 14, 1871||April 25, 1875|
|33||Edwards Pierrepont||New York||April 26, 1875||May 21, 1876|
|34||Alphonso Taft||Ohio||May 22, 1876||March 4, 1877|
|35||Charles Devens||Massachusetts||March 12, 1877||March 4, 1881||Rutherford B. Hayes|
|36||Wayne MacVeagh||Pennsylvania||March 5, 1881||December 15, 1881||James A. Garfield|
|Chester A. Arthur|
|37||Benjamin H. Brewster||Pennsylvania||December 16, 1881||March 4, 1885|
|38||Augustus Garland||Arkansas||March 6, 1885||March 4, 1889||Grover Cleveland|
|39||William H. H. Miller||Indiana||March 7, 1889||March 4, 1893||Benjamin Harrison|
|40||Richard Olney||Massachusetts||March 6, 1893||April 7, 1895||Grover Cleveland|
|41||Judson Harmon||Ohio||April 8, 1895||March 4, 1897|
|42||Joseph McKenna||California||March 5, 1897||January 25, 1898||William McKinley|
|43||John W. Griggs||New Jersey||January 25, 1898||March 29, 1901|
|44||Philander C. Knox||Pennsylvania||April 5, 1901||June 30, 1904|
|45||William Henry Moody||Massachusetts||July 1, 1904||December 17, 1906|
|46||Charles Bonaparte||Maryland||December 17, 1906||March 4, 1909|
|47||George W. Wickersham||New York||March 4, 1909||March 4, 1913||William Howard Taft|
|48||James C. McReynolds||Tennessee||March 5, 1913||August 29, 1914||Woodrow Wilson|
|49||Thomas Watt Gregory||Texas||August 29, 1914||March 4, 1919|
|50||A. Mitchell Palmer||Pennsylvania||March 5, 1919||March 4, 1921|
|51||Harry M. Daugherty||Ohio||March 4, 1921||April 6, 1924||Warren G. Harding|
|52||Harlan F. Stone||New York||April 7, 1924||March 1, 1925|
|53||John G. Sargent||Vermont||March 7, 1925||March 4, 1929|
|54||William D. Mitchell||Minnesota||March 4, 1929||March 4, 1933||Herbert Hoover|
|55||Homer Stille Cummings||Connecticut||March 4, 1933||January 1, 1939||Franklin D. Roosevelt|
|56||Frank Murphy||Michigan||January 2, 1939||January 18, 1940|
|57||Robert H. Jackson||New York||January 18, 1940||August 25, 1941|
|58||Francis Biddle||Pennsylvania||August 26, 1941||June 26, 1945|
|Harry S. Truman|
|59||Tom C. Clark||Texas||June 27, 1945||July 26, 1949|
|60||J. Howard McGrath||Rhode Island||July 27, 1949||April 3, 1952|
|61||James P. McGranery||Pennsylvania||April 4, 1952||January 20, 1953|
|62||Herbert Brownell Jr.||New York||January 21, 1953||October 23, 1957||Dwight D. Eisenhower|
|63||William P. Rogers||New York||October 23, 1957||January 20, 1961|
|64||Robert F. Kennedy||Massachusetts||January 20, 1961||September 3, 1964||John F. Kennedy|
|Lyndon B. Johnson|
|65||Nicholas Katzenbach||Illinois||September 4, 1964[b]||January 28, 1965|
|January 28, 1965||November 28, 1966|
|66||Ramsey Clark||Texas||November 28, 1966[b]||March 10, 1967|
|March 10, 1967||January 20, 1969|
|67||John N. Mitchell||New York||January 20, 1969||February 15, 1972||Richard Nixon|
|68||Richard Kleindienst||Arizona||February 15, 1972||April 30, 1973|
|69||Elliot Richardson||Massachusetts||April 30, 1973||October 20, 1973|
|Pennsylvania||October 20, 1973||January 4, 1974|
|70||William B. Saxbe||Ohio||January 4, 1974||January 14, 1975|
|71||Edward H. Levi||Illinois||January 14, 1975||January 20, 1977|
|Pennsylvania||January 20, 1977||January 26, 1977||Jimmy Carter|
|72||Griffin Bell||Georgia||January 26, 1977||August 16, 1979|
|73||Benjamin Civiletti||Maryland||August 16, 1979||January 19, 1981|
|74||William French Smith||California||January 23, 1981||February 25, 1985||Ronald Reagan|
|75||Edwin Meese||California||February 25, 1985||August 12, 1988|
|76||Dick Thornburgh||Pennsylvania||August 12, 1988||August 15, 1991|
|George H. W. Bush|
|Washington, D.C.||August 16, 1991[b]||November 26, 1991|
|November 26, 1991||January 20, 1993|
|–||Stuart M. Gerson[e]
|Washington, D.C.||January 20, 1993||March 12, 1993||Bill Clinton|
|78||Janet Reno||Florida||March 12, 1993||January 20, 2001|
|Washington, D.C.||January 20, 2001||February 2, 2001||George W. Bush|
|79||John Ashcroft||Missouri||February 2, 2001||February 3, 2005|
|80||Alberto Gonzales||Texas||February 3, 2005||September 17, 2007|
|Washington, D.C.||September 17, 2007||September 18, 2007|
|Washington, D.C.||September 18, 2007||November 9, 2007|
|81||Michael Mukasey||New York||November 9, 2007||January 20, 2009|
|Illinois||January 20, 2009||February 3, 2009||Barack Obama|
|82||Eric Holder||Washington, D.C.||February 3, 2009||April 27, 2015|
|83||Loretta Lynch||New York||April 27, 2015||January 20, 2017|
|Georgia||January 20, 2017||January 30, 2017||Donald Trump|
|Virginia||January 30, 2017||February 9, 2017|
|84||Jeff Sessions||Alabama||February 9, 2017||November 7, 2018|
|Iowa||November 7, 2018||February 14, 2019|
|Virginia||February 14, 2019||Incumbent|
Living former U.S. attorneys general
As of November 2020, 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 to 1993, returned to the post and is currently serving, excluding him from this list.
|Name||Term of office||Date of birth (and age)|
|Ramsey Clark||1967–1969||December 18, 1927|
|Benjamin Civiletti||1979–1981||July 17, 1935|
|Edwin Meese||1985–1988||December 2, 1931|
|Dick Thornburgh||1988–1991||July 16, 1932|
|John Ashcroft||2001–2005||May 9, 1942|
|Alberto Gonzales||2005–2007||August 4, 1955|
|Michael Mukasey||2007–2009||July 28, 1941|
|Eric Holder||2009–2015||January 21, 1951|
|Loretta Lynch||2015–2017||May 21, 1959|
|Jefferson Sessions||2017–2018||December 24, 1946|
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"
- Unusually for a transitional acting appointment, Yates was dismissed and replaced with another Acting Attorney General before Sessions was confirmed because she refused to defend an executive order of the incoming administration.
- Served as acting attorney general in his capacity as deputy attorney general, until his own appointment and confirmation as attorney general.
- On October 20, 1973, Solicitor General Robert Bork became acting attorney general following the "Saturday Night Massacre", in which U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus both resigned.
- Served as acting attorney general in his capacity as deputy attorney general, until the appointment of a new attorney general. Thornburgh later served as attorney general from 1988–1991.
- Served as acting attorney general in his capacity as Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ Civil Division. Gerson was fourth in the line of succession at the Justice Department, but other senior DOJ officials had already resigned. Janet Reno, President Clinton's nominee for attorney general, was confirmed on March 12, and he resigned the same day.
- Served as acting attorney general in his capacity as deputy attorney general, until the appointment of a new attorney general. Holder later served as attorney general from 2009–2015.
- On August 27, 2007, President Bush named Solicitor General Paul Clement as the future acting attorney general, to take office upon the resignation of Alberto Gonzales, effective September 17, 2007. On September 17, President Bush announced that Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ Civil Division Peter Keisler would become acting attorney general, pending a permanent appointment of a presidential nominee. According to administration officials, Clement became acting attorney general at 12:01 am September 17, 2007, and left office 24 hours later. Keisler served as acting attorney general until the confirmation of Michael Mukasey on November 9, 2007.
- Served as acting attorney general in her capacity as deputy attorney general, until she was fired after stating that the Department of Justice would not defend an executive order in court.
- The legality of Matthew Whitaker's appointment as Acting Attorney General was called into question by several constitutional scholars. Among those included Neal Katyal and George T. Conway III, who asserted it is unconstitutional, because the Attorney General is a principal officer under the Appointments Clause, and thus requires senate consent, even in an acting capacity. Maryland filed an injunction against Whitaker's appointment on this basis. John E. Bies at Lawfare regarded it as an unresolved question. The DOJ Office of Legal Counsel released a legal opinion, asserting that the appointment was legal and consistent with past precedent.
- "3 U.S. Code § 19 - Vacancy in offices of both President and Vice President; officers eligible to act". Retrieved November 7, 2018.
- 5 U.S.C. § 5312.
- Fandos, Nicholas; Benner, Katie (February 14, 2019). "Senate Confirms William Barr as Attorney General". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
- Judiciary Act of 1789, section 35.
- Cabinets and Counselors: The President and the Executive Branch (1997). Congressional Quarterly. p. 87.
- Herz, Michael (2002). "Washington, Patton, Schwarzkopf and ... Ashcroft?". Constitutional Commentary.
- Garner, Bryan A. "LawProse Lesson #116: What's the plural form of attorney general? And what is the plural possessive?". Above the Law. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
- Gerstein, Josh. "Trump will allow U.S. attorneys to stay past Friday". POLITICO. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
- Horwitz, Sari (January 30, 2017). "Who is Sally Yates? Meet the acting attorney general Trump fired for 'betraying' the Justice Department". Washington Post. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
- Stern, Laurence; Johnson, Haynes (May 1, 1973). "3 Top Nixon Aides, Kleindienst Out; President Accepts Full Responsibility; Richardson Will Conduct New Probe". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
- Staff reporter (February 21, 1993). "Stuart Gerson's Parting Shot". New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2008.
As supporters of the Brady gun-control bill prepare to introduce it in Congress yet again this week, they find a welcome, if unlikely, ally in Stuart Gerson, the Acting Attorney General. Because President Clinton has had so many problems finding a new Attorney General, Mr. Gerson remains in office...
- Labaton, Stephen (January 25, 1993). "Notes on Justice; Who's in Charge? Bush Holdover Says He Is, but Two Clinton Men Differ". The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2008.
- Ifill, Gwen (March 12, 1993). "Reno Confirmed in Top Justice Job". New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2008.
She will replace Acting Attorney General Stuart M. Gerson, a holdover appointee from the Bush Administration. Ms. Reno said he resigned today.
- Meyers, Steven Lee (August 27, 2007). "Embattled Attorney General Resigns". The New York Times. Retrieved August 27, 2007.
- "President Bush Announces Judge Michael Mukasey as Nominee for Attorney General", White House press release, September 17, 2007
- "Bush Text on Attorney General Nomination". NewsOK.com. The Oklahoman. The Associated Press. September 17, 2007. Retrieved September 18, 2007.
- Eggen, Dan; Elizabeth Williamson (September 19, 2007). "Democrats May Tie Confirmation to Gonzales Papers". Washington Post. pp. A10. Retrieved September 19, 2007.
- Perez, Evan; Diamond, Jeremy (January 30, 2017). "Trump fires acting AG after she declines to defend travel ban". CNN. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
- "Opinion | Trump's Appointment of the Acting Attorney General Is Unconstitutional". Retrieved November 15, 2018.
- "Maryland Says Matthew Whitaker Appointment As Acting Attorney General Is Unlawful". NPR.org. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
- "Matthew Whitaker's Appointment as Acting Attorney General: Three Lingering Questions". Lawfare. November 8, 2018. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
- Jarrett, Laura. "DOJ says Whitaker's appointment as acting attorney general is constitutional". CNN. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
- "U.S.C. Title 28 - JUDICIARY AND JUDICIAL PROCEDURE". www.gpo.gov. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
- "Providing an Order of Succession Within the Department of Justice". Federal Register. April 5, 2017. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
Christopher C. Miller
as Secretary of Defense
| Order of Precedence of the United States
as Attorney General
as Secretary of the Interior
|U.S. presidential line of succession|
Secretary of Defense
Christopher C. Miller
|7th in line||Succeeded by|
Secretary of the Interior