Although the duties and powers of the Attorney General of any given principality
, or nation
vary moderately, the essential function of the position is to centralize the legal authority of a government
. The Attorney General can be considered a synthesis
of a politician
and a prosecutor
, with a bit of judicial discretion
occasionally added for good measure.
In the United States, the Attorney General?s office was created in 1789. The Attorney General is the head of the Department of Justice, as well as the primary liaison between various executive governmental branches and the nation's law enforcement agencies. He is also the bearer of the odd title of "chief law enforcement officer," with administrative control of many departments, offices, and various bureaucratic compartments, such as the U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, and the Bureau of Prisons.
Each state also has an Attorney General (collectively known, incidentally, as Attorneys General), a position which reflects that of the federal officeholder in accordance with American ideas concerning federalism, pluralism, and republicanism.
Attorneys General in the United States are appointed at the federal level by the President, and are subject to confirmation by the Senate; that this process occasionally goes rather badly was recently demonstrated during the confirmation hearings for President George W. Bush's current Attorney General, John Ashcroft.
Additionally, the U.S. Attorney General dictates the direction of pending litigation, and the selection of cases to pursue, settle, or abandon (such as antitrust cases). Needless to say, the Attorney General is extremely powerful, and individual officeholders have been accused of abusing their authority in the past, by appointing special prosecuters or failing to do so, by initiating investigations against politically unpopular groups, and, more recently, by manifesting an appalling level of incompetence in certain cases.
A list of the Attorneys General from 1789 through the present is available at www.usdoj.gov, and most states have put information about their Attorneys General online, as have many nations.