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Local Politics 101: The Role of a State Attorney General

The Local Politics 101 blog series zeroes in on the role of several local and state-level elected officials, including mayors and governors. These officials have a substantial impact on our lives. Voting for local and state-level candidates means getting a step closer to addressing or resolving important issues. Learn more about what state attorneys general are, what they do, and how you can become one. 

What is a State Attorney General?

Every state and territory in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, has an attorney general (AG). The AG is considered the people’s lawyer and the state’s lawyer. A state attorney general is the chief legal advisor as well as the chief law enforcement officer of the state. The AG acts as the representative of the government for the people, upholding the state’s sovereignty. 

Fun Fact: Vice President Kamala Harris served as an attorney general of the state of California from 2011 to 2017.  

What are the responsibilities of a State AG? 

The key role of a state attorney general is to serve as a chief legal advisor for the state agencies and state legislature. The AG is responsible for enforcing laws when there is a violation of state law and providing a verdict without any kind of partisan influence. A state attorney general represents the state and state agencies in court proceedings before the state and federal courts. The office of an attorney general also conducts investigations in civil and criminal matters, ranging from environmental protection to criminal justice prosecution. An attorney general defends the state’s and the United States’ constitution, ensuring justice for the American people under the law. 

Is a State AG elected or appointed?

State attorneys general are either elected or appointed. In 43 states and the District of Columbia, an attorney general is elected. In seven states, AGs are appointed. In five states—New Hampshire, New Jersey, Wyoming, Alaska, and Hawaii—AGs are governor appointees. But in Maine, the state Legislature appoints an attorney general, whereas, in Tennessee, the state Supreme Court appoints an attorney general. 

What is the tenure of a State AG? 

In the District of Columbia and 42 states, except in Vermont, the elected attorney general can hold the position for a four-year term. In Vermont and Maine, an attorney general can serve for a two-year term, but in Tennessee, an attorney general can hold the office for an eight-year term. However, the term limit for an attorney general varies, but more than half of the states across the country have not set any restrictions.

Who can run for a State AG? 

The qualifications for a state attorney general may differ from one state to another. Except for the common requirements, such as minimum age, state residency, U.S. citizenship, a registered voter of the respective state, and state bar admission, many states do not allow an attorney general to serve in more than one office. 

Regardless of the verdict, the decisions made by a state attorney general affect our life. Whether it is a decision to criminalize marijuana or to protect consumers from fraud, it impacts an individual’s life. So, vote for a candidate of your choice, if you live in those states where there is an elected state AG. You can learn more about your state attorney general here

Want to learn how you can run for office? Start here

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