About the Office

photo of entrance to Attorney General´s Office

The Judiciary Act of 1789 created the Office of the Attorney General which evolved over the years into the head of the Department of Justice and chief law enforcement officer of the Federal Government. The Attorney General represents the United States in legal matters generally and gives advice and opinions to the President and to the heads of the executive departments of the Government when so requested. In matters of exceptional gravity or importance the Attorney General appears in person before the Supreme Court. Since the 1870 Act that established the Department of Justice as an executive department of the government of the United States, the Attorney General has guided the world's largest law office and the central agency for enforcement of federal laws.

Attorneys General Throughout History

The Department of Justice traces its beginning to the First Congress meeting in New York in 1789, at which time the Congress devoted itself to creating the infrastructure for operating the Federal Government. After meeting for several months the legislators passed a bill known as the Judiciary Act that provided for the organization and administration of the judicial branch of the new government, and included in that Act was a provision for appointment of “…a meet person, learned in the law, to act as attorney-general for the United States…” 

Although it would be nearly another century before Congress would create the Department of Justice, the establishment of the Attorney General position marks the true beginning of the Department. The Judiciary Act was passed by Congress and signed by President George Washington on September 24, 1789, making the Attorney General position the fourth in the order of creation by Congress of those positions that have come to be defined as Cabinet level positions.

Eighty-six distinguished Americans have served as Attorney General.

Learn more about these honored individuals: Attorneys General Throughout History

Updated March 12, 2021

Was this page helpful?

Was this page helpful?
Yes No