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Office History

President George Washington’s handwritten nomination of the first United States Attorneys. The original is kept at the National Archives in Washington D.C.

On September 24, 1789, President George Washington signed into law the Judiciary Act, which marked the beginning of our national system of American law. Two days later, the President nominated Richard Harrison to become the first “United States Attorney for the New York District” in a handwritten letter to the Senate. On November 3, 1789, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York opened its courtroom in a market building located on Broad Street in Lower Manhattan, thirteen weeks before the Supreme Court held its first session. One of its first orders of business was to record Richard Harrison's commission as the United States Attorney for this District. By the spring of 1790, the United States Attorney's Office had successfully brought its first criminal and civil cases before a New York Federal court.

Throughout its history, this Office has distinguished itself as one of the nation's premier legal institutions and spearheaded innovative federal litigation and law enforcement efforts. Because of this leadership role and a longstanding tradition of independence, incorruptibility, and dedication to the public interest, many accomplished men and women continue to seek to serve their country as Assistant United States Attorneys in the district.

Transcript of President George Washington’s handwritten nomination.

Over the years, the many men and women who have served in the Office have become leaders in government, in their communities, law schools, the bar, and on the bench. Southern District alumni have made enormous contributions in many of the nation's leading judicial tribunals - the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals, the United States District Courts, the New York Court of Appeals, the New York State Supreme Courts, and others. In the private legal sector, major law firms carry the names of former Assistants, and are led by former Assistants. And, Office alumni frequently contribute to the political process as federal, state and local legislators and officials, and molders of the public administration and policy positions.

Throughout its history and continuing today, SDNY prosecutors are guided by the tradition of excellence that is the hallmark of the Office. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, an early alumnus of the Office (1906-09), observed that no one beginning a legal career in the Office "could possibly have a more desirable, more deepening, and altogether more precious influence during their formative years." Justice Frankfurter's observations continue to ring true today. Assistant United States Attorneys have the opportunity to represent the interests of the United States of America and, in performing this important public service, to exercise responsibility that is unparalleled in any other job that a litigator might undertake. The excitement and pride inherent in being an Assistant United States Attorney resonate throughout the Office and are echoed every day by former Assistants who say it was the best job they have ever had.

Updated May 14, 2015