Attorney General office comparison

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The Attorney General is an executive office in all 50 states. The job of an attorney general is primarily to serve as chief legal advisor to the agencies and legislative organs that comprise a given state's government, as well as to the citizens residing within the state. It is this last common aspect of the role, regarding an attorney general's duty to serve the people, that gives it the name the "People's Lawyer," and distinguishes it from its medieval origins. The attorneys general of modern day state government in the United States are the descendents of the "Kings Attorneys" of Great Britain, whose role evolved over roughly four centuries leading up to U.S. Independence from Crown-centric counselors to a legal adviser to both the Crown and Britain's government agencies .

Today, the title of state attorney general is synonymous with "chief legal adviser," "chief law enforcement officer," "chief prosecutor," and even, at times, "top cop." Nearly every state's attorney general serves as chief legal adviser for the state government and is empowered to prosecute violations of state law, represent the state in legal disputes and issue legal advice to state agencies and the legislature.

The majority of attorneys general have a substantial influence on a state's approach to law enforcement. Attorneys general often set particular law enforcement priorities (e.g. drug law, civil rights violations or sexual crime) and focus extra resources on these issues. This puts them, in the words of the National Association of Attorneys General, at the "intersection of law and public policy."[1][2] Fourty-four states publicly elect their attorneys general, reinforcing the office's relationship with, and direct accountability to, the people, in contrast with the Kings Attorneys of the past, whose duty to the serve the "governors," must have left those being "governed" under the law with something to be desired.

This page compares the office from state to state, examining similarities and differences such as how they win office, term limits, authority, budget, and duties.

Current officeholders

Political parties

The chart below is a breakdown of the political parties pertaining to the state executive office of attorney general. For other state executive offices, click here.

Office Democratic Party Democratic Republican Party Republican Independent Independent Nonpartisan Total seats
Attorney General 26 24 0 0 50
Counts current as of September 2014. If you see an error, please email us

List of Current Attorney Generals

List of All Current State Attorneys General in the United States
StateOfficerAssumed officePolitical Party
South Carolina
Michael Alan Wilson
2011
Ends.png Republican
Delaware
Joseph R. "Beau" Biden, III
2011
Electiondot.png Democratic
Michigan
William Duncan "Bill" Schuette
2011
Ends.png Republican
Vermont
William H. Sorrell
1997
Electiondot.png Democratic
Washington
Bob Ferguson
2013
Electiondot.png Democratic
Louisiana
Buddy Caldwell
2007
Ends.png Republican
Nevada
Catherine Cortez Masto
2007
Electiondot.png Democratic
Missouri
Chris Koster
2009
Electiondot.png Democratic
Hawaii
David M. Louie
2011
Electiondot.png Democratic
Kansas
Derek Schmidt
2011
Ends.png Republican
Maryland
Douglas F. Gansler
2006
Electiondot.png Democratic
Arkansas
Dustin McDaniel
2007
Electiondot.png Democratic
Oregon
Ellen Rosenblum
2012
Electiondot.png Democratic
New York
Eric Schneiderman
2011
Electiondot.png Democratic
New Mexico
Gary King
2006
Electiondot.png Democratic
Connecticut
George C. Jepsen
2011
Electiondot.png Democratic
Texas
Greg Abbott
2002
Ends.png Republican
Indiana
Greg Zoeller
2009
Ends.png Republican
Wisconsin
J.B. Van Hollen
2007
Ends.png Republican
Kentucky
Jack Conway
2007
Electiondot.png Democratic
Maine
Janet T. Mills
2012
Electiondot.png Democratic
Mississippi
Jim Hood
2004
Electiondot.png Democratic
New Hampshire
Joe Foster
2013
Electiondot.png Democratic
New Jersey
John Hoffman
2013
Ends.png Republican
Colorado
John W. Suthers
2005
Ends.png Republican
Nebraska
Jon Bruning
2002
Ends.png Republican
California
Kamala D. Harris
2011
Electiondot.png Democratic
Pennsylvania
Kathleen Kane
2013
Electiondot.png Democratic
Idaho
Lawrence Wasden
2003
Ends.png Republican
Illinois
Lisa Madigan
2003
Electiondot.png Democratic
Minnesota
Lori Swanson
2007
Electiondot.png Democratic
Alabama
Luther J. Strange, III
2011
Ends.png Republican
Virginia
Mark Herring
2014
Electiondot.png Democratic
Massachusetts
Martha Coakley
2007
Electiondot.png Democratic
South Dakota
Marty J. Jackley
2009
Ends.png Republican
Alaska
Michael Geraghty
2012
Ends.png Republican
Ohio
Richard Michael DeWine
2011
Ends.png Republican
Florida
Pam Bondi
2011
Ends.png Republican
West Virginia
Patrick Morrisey
2013
Ends.png Republican
Rhode Island
Peter Kilmartin
2011
Electiondot.png Democratic
Wyoming
Peter Michael
2013
Ends.png Republican
Tennessee
Robert E. Cooper, Jr.
2006
Electiondot.png Democratic
North Carolina
Roy Cooper
2001
Electiondot.png Democratic
Georgia
Samuel S. Olens
2011
Ends.png Republican
Oklahoma
Scott Pruitt
2011
Ends.png Republican
Utah
Sean D. Reyes
2013
Ends.png Republican
Montana
Tim Fox
2013
Ends.png Republican
Arizona
Thomas C. Horne
2011
Ends.png Republican
Iowa
Thomas John Miller
1995
Electiondot.png Democratic
North Dakota
Wayne Stenehjem
2001
Ends.png Republican

Qualifications

Qualifications for the office of attorney general vary widely from state to state.

Minimum age
35 states have a formal provision specifying minimum age, while 15 have no formal provision.[3]

Of the 35 states:

State Citizen
43 states have a formal provision stating an attorney general must be a state resident, while 7 do not have a formal provision. Of the 43 states, 24 specify the number of years and 19 do not.[4]

States that specify number of years as a state resident:

U.S. citizen
38 states have a formal provision stating a attorney general must be a United States citizen, while 12 do not have a formal provision. Of the 38 states, 5 specify the number of years and 33 do not.[4]

States that specify number of years as a United States citizen:

Qualified Voter
30 states have a formal provision stating a lieutenant governor must be a qualified voter, while 20 do not have a formal provision. Of the 30 states, only 1, Oklahoma, specifies the number of years and 29 do not.[4]

Juris Doctor
Considering the myriad legal responsibilities carried by state attorneys general, it may surprise you to discover that a whopping 19 states have no set statutory or constitutional provisions requiring an individual to hold a law degree, or have a valid license to practice law, in order to serve in the office of attorney general.[5]

States that do not require a law degree*: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Among these states, all but two, New Jersey, and Tennessee, are elected directly by the people.

*While a J.D. is not necessary in these states to qualify for the role of attorney general, all 19 officeholders do, in fact, hold law degrees, current as of October 2013. (See also: The education of state executive officials).

Quick facts about Attorneys General

Elected vs. Appointed

43 states directly elect Attorneys General. Others are appointed by either the governor, state legislature or state supreme court.

Attorneys general are chosen in four different ways; they are either popularly elected or appointed by the governor, the state legislature, or the state supreme court. The office is elective in 43 states and chosen by a state government organ in 6.

The attorney general is appointed by the governor in four states: Alaska, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Wyoming.

In Maine and New Hampshire, the officeholder is chosen by the state legislature, while in Tennessee the choice falls to the state supreme court.

Term Limits

See also: State executives with term limits

Of the 50 Attorneys General, 25 do not have a formal provision specifying the number of terms allowed. Of the 44 elected attorneys general, all serve four-year terms with the exception of Vermont, who serves a two-year term.[6]

  • 11 face a two term limit, otherwise unspecified.
  • 3, New Mexico, Rhode Island and South Dakota, are limited to serving two consecutive four-year terms, after which they must wait four years and/or one full term before being eligible again.
  • 1, Montana, is limited to two terms (eight years) in any 16 year span.
  • 1, Maine, can serve a maximum of four terms, each two years in length
  • 1, Tennessee, is appointed by the State Supreme Court to serve a term of eight years.
  • 1, Virginia, has a provision specifying an individual can serve as attorney general for an unlimited number of terms.

Budgets and Official Compensation

Budget

The difference in budgets for the offices across the states reaches $735,982,631. Nebraska has the smallest budget, spending only $5,795,369 a year on the attorney general's office, while California spends the most with a budget of $741,778,000. This can be because the number of divisions and support staff within the office varies widely from state to state. In Nebraska, the attorney general's office employs about 100 attorneys and support staff, while in California, the office employs over 1,100 attorneys alone.[7]

States with the highest budgets
1 California $741,778,000
2 Texas $508,020,444
3 Oregon $413,491,336
4 Washington $227,546,000
5 Ohio $217,108,936
States with the lowest budgets
1 Nebraska $5,795,369
2 West Virginia $5,941,802
3 Vermont $7,573,301
4 Mississippi $8,424,443
5 New Jersey $12,446,000

Salary

While the salaries also differ, they do not necessarily coincide with the budgets. While Oregon is on our top five highest budgets chart, the attorney general has the second lowest salary, at $77,200. In fact, of the top five highest budgets, only Washington has a compensation also ranked in the top five. On the opposite end, no state appeared in both the low budget and low compensation charts.

States with the highest compensations
1 Tennessee $173,352
2 Alabama $160,003
3 Illinois $156,541
4 Pennsylvania $155,797
5 Washington $151,718
States with the lowest compensations
1 Arkansas $72,408
2 Oregon $77,200
3 Colorado $80,000
4 Indiana $89,722
5 Arizona $90,000

The table below can be sorted by state, budget, or compensation of the Attorney General.

StateBudgetCompensation
Alabama21000366160,003
Alaska94,723,600135,000
Arizona56,310,10090,000
Arkansas22,456,73872,408
California741,778,000151,127
Colorado57,251,13080,000
Connecticut31,868,659110,000
Delaware32,227,100145,207
Florida81692388128,972
Georgia$59,813,68137,791
Hawaii73,140,520114,420
Idaho18725400105,300
Illinois78223700156,541
Indiana3263958489,722
Iowa15620324123,669
Kansas2229152798,901
Kentucky30,189,100115,593
Louisiana58,012,459115,000
Maine31,074,91092,248
Maryland26,873,559125,000
Massachusetts43,735,434133,644
Michigan89,139,900124,900
Minnesota24,342,000114,288
Missouri29,468,961116,437
Montana86,649,14699,712
Nebraska579536995,000
Nevada13,548,852133,000
New Hampshire24507679110,114
New Jersey12446000141,000
New Mexico2545760095,000
New York215348000151,500
North Carolina119395956123,198
North Dakota58969422138,159
Ohio217108936109,986
Oklahoma23602000132,850
Oregon41349133677,200
Pennsylvania78121000155,797
Rhode Island26394782115,610
South Carolina2203115492,007
South Dakota21498844100,876
Tennessee30758400173,352
Texas508020444150,000
Utah6934340098,509
Vermont7573301113,901
Virginia35660544150,000
Washington227546000151,718
West Virginia594180295,000
Wisconsin89449400140,147
Wyoming88511550137,150
Mississippi8,424,443108,960

Duties

Portal:Attorneys General

Notable exceptions

Criminal Appeals

Most state attorneys general have the duty of appearing on behalf of the state in criminal appeals. Only Mississippi, Montana and Pennsylvania do not give their AGs authority in this area. A minority of states have provisions specifying the extent of their AGs authority in handling appeals. They include:

Consumer Protection/Cyber Crime

Local prosecutions

A common duty of state attorneys general is intervening in local prosecutions. Most AGs are empowered to intervene in local prosecutions to which the state is not a party, though the authority is often limited to certain circumstances. A recent example of this limitation, pulled straight from the October 2013 headlines, is the Attorney General of Missouri's inability to re-initiate a criminal prosecution against an individual whose charges were already dropped by a county judge, despite pleas from his constituents to intervene in what many of the county residents consider to be a miscarriage of justice. In Missouri, the authority to file criminal charges in local jurisdictions falls exclusively with local prosecutors, and the state AG can only intervene at "under certain statutes and for specific crimes." Meanwhile, attorneys general in Alaska, Attorney General of Delaware and Rhode Island, for example, do not operate under these constraints.[8]

Commentary

Among the chief criticisms of the office is that state attorneys general have strayed from their traditional defense-based lawyer role to assume more a "offensive" and political posture, often in ways that overstep the legal authority of the office and/or what would be historically recognized as the limits of institutional etiquette. In some cases, attorneys general look inward to test the bounds of their authority through involvement in state legislative matters, or by refusing to uphold state laws which they find to be in violation of an alternate, overarching ideological code, such as Pennsylvania AG Kathleen Kane's stated refusal to enforce Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage. Other times, AGs turn outward to reinterpret their function: In recent years, a number of cases have arisen where state attorneys general mounted coordinated efforts to challenge laws passed by the United States Congress or to exert influence over the outcome of pending federal legislation. The most prominent of these cases is the State Attorneys General Against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which saw 26 Republican AGs team up to instigate a lawsuit against the federal government following Congress' passage of President Obama's health care reform bill.

Other times, external circumstances compel state attorneys general to expand their role and/or collaborate with their counterparts across state lines. For instance, the nationwide mortgage crisis that led 49 AGs (Oklahoma's Scott Pruitt made an independent deal for his state) to negotiate and ultimately settle for $26 billion with a handful of large U.S. banks over dodgy home foreclosures in the wake of the 2008 market downturn.[9][10] In 2010, Congress passed a federal financial reform law called Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which addressed how attorneys general, as their states' leaders in consumer protection, are critical players in the country's efforts to crack down on predatory and economically destructive lending practices. Dodd-Frank increased AGs' law enforcement powers with regard to fighting fraud.

One possible explanation for state attorneys general becoming more restless and political-minded is the office's rising media profile, which is a function of the rising capacity of the internet and mainstream press to produce and distribute content on controversial cases involving the AGs. Another, possible more likely, explanation is the office's status as a springboard to higher office - to the governorship, especially. Nine sitting governors as of November 2013 previously served as attorney general of their respective states:

See also

External links

References