How an Attorney General Works

What Does an Attorney General Do?

The attorney general holds the power of attorney in representing a government in all legal matters. The attorney general is nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. There is no designated term for the attorney general, rather the president can remove him or her from the office at any time. Additionally, the attorney general can be impeached and tried by Congress if deemed necessary.

As head of the Department of Justice and chief legal counsel to the president, the duties of the attorney general are obviously important and wide reaching. The attorney general prosecutes cases that involve the government and gives advice to the president and heads of the executive departments when needed.


As the chief officer of the Department of Justice, the attorney general enforces federal laws, provides legal counsel in federal cases, interprets the laws that govern executive departments, heads federal jails and penal institutions, and examines alleged violations of federal laws. In addition, the attorney general may be called upon to represent the United States in the Supreme Court in cases of exceptional importance. The attorney general serves in the Cabinet of the president of the United States.

The attorney general is in charge of supervising United States attorneys and marshals in their respective judicial districts. While attorneys are responsible for prosecuting offenses against the United States and prosecuting or defending in proceedings in which the United States requires representation, marshals issue orders and processes under the authority of the United States.

States attorneys general have many of the same duties as the federal attorney general but on a smaller statewide scale. The specific duties of attorney general vary from state to state. Some attorneys general are elected in statewide contests, while others are appointed by the governor, legislature or supreme court.

The projects that an attorney general can take on are wide ranging. For example, Eric Holder voiced opinions on waterboarding, the close of Guantanamo Bay detention camp and the transfer of accused terrorists to jails on U.S. soil. On the state level, attorneys general might challenge the constitutionality of a law. In 2010, 11 state attorneys general moved to challenge the constitutionality of the health care reform bill [source: Richey].