The Powers of the Attorney General

State attorneys general are charged with upholding both the Constitution and U.S. laws; their powers extend far beyond just enforcement actions, however.

James has used her power as New York attorney general to regulate tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, filing suit against NRA leaders who used gun advocacy group as a vehicle to enrich themselves. But James isn’t alone in taking on complex issues.

The People’s Lawyer

In common law jurisdictions, an attorney general (pl.: attorneys general) serves as the legal representative for government. They often advise executive branch representatives and prosecute major crimes and manage other legal affairs on their behalf.

Attorney General Letitia James is New York’s chief legal officer and an advocate for all New Yorkers. She has taken on big banks for financial fraud, combated all forms of corruption in all forms and won millions for New Yorkers through litigation and settlements.

Attorney General Tong is driven by the values of generosity and inclusion he learned while working alongside his immigrant parents in their small business. He fights tirelessly every day for civil rights of residents including women, minorities, immigrants and national leaders in accessing reproductive healthcare services. Furthermore, Attorney General Tong conducts investigations of consumer, environmental, workplace protection laws to seek justice on a statewide scale.

Represents the Public Interest

State attorneys general can serve as both law enforcement agents and advocates for public interest issues at both state and federal levels by writing letters to Congress or federal agencies, proposing legislation or attending hearings.

State Attorney Generals can use their position to fight for the public by going after predatory landlords or violators of consumer protection laws, while also keeping government in check by filing suits when federal or state agencies exceed their legal responsibilities or exceed their authorized authorities.

Finally, at the state level, they can assist prosecutors in prioritizing cases for prosecution by considering public interest factors in an individual case-by-case decision process. This allows prosecutors to reduce ill-founded criminal cases that clog their docket, and ultimately allows judges and juries to focus on more meritorious ones.

Keeps the Government in Check

General Attorneys typically possess a range of policy and legal tools at their disposal to monitor federal or state governments in their jurisdictions, such as litigation, administrative proceedings, proposed legislation and conducting investigations. Furthermore, AGs can hold government officials and agencies accountable by filing lawsuits alleging misconduct on their part or by filing complaints for acting beyond their authority.

New York Attorney General Letitia James used her office to bring in $7.5 billion for the state through criminal prosecution of individuals and companies that broke New York laws such as opioid manufacturers and distributors, tenants, patients, investors and workers as well as promote harm-reduction public health strategies and environmental preservation strategies.

Are you curious to gain more insight into what state attorneys general do? The National Association of Attorneys General, an impartial nonpartisan national forum offering collaboration, insight, and expertise for America’s AGs, maintains an exhaustive database of all of their litigation cases taken on.

Defends the State

Attorney generals play an essential role in upholding state laws and protecting them against civil and criminal litigation, such as lawsuits from prisoners over prison conditions, employment discrimination lawsuits against state buildings or projects and constitutional challenges to state statutes and regulations.

Attorneys general or their deputy attorneys general represent the state in all such cases and many more that involve public interest, including cases which seek damages, changes to state policies or practices, or declaration that specific statutes are unconstitutional.

New York’s Attorney General (AG) was an active champion in protecting tenants’ rights to fair housing from predatory landlords, sueing polluters for endangering public health, defending state workers wrongly accused of misconduct and taking the fight all the way up to the Supreme Court to stop citizenship questions from being added to census forms. Furthermore, his work encompassed other legal duties like child support enforcement, conducting background checks for state employees and planning crime prevention programs such as McGruff the Crime Dog.