In most states, an attorney general’s power and authority come from the common law (custom and judicial precedent) rather than statutes. Under common law precedent, attorneys general have the authority to represent, defend, and enforce the legal interests of both the state itself and of the public. The jurisdiction’s constitution and statutes also establish the attorney general’s authority in other areas.
Depending on the decisions of the state's courts, attorneys general may have common law authority to:
- Protect the public interest.
- Control litigation and appeals on behalf of the state or territory.
- Appear for and defend the state or territory and its agencies.
- Determine the legal policy of the state or territory.
- Intervene in legal proceedings on behalf of the public interest.
- Prosecute criminal activity (in the absence of express legislative restrictions).
- Seek abatement of a public nuisance.
- Seek writs of prohibition against judicial actions.
- Enforce charitable trusts.
Attorneys general also have many other duties and responsibilities that are assigned by state constitutions and statutes. Although the functions and priorities of the attorney general vary depending on the jurisdiction, actions taken by attorneys general in every state include:
- Issuing legal opinions which interpret state laws.
- Filing amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Bringing civil enforcement actions.
Additionally, the attorneys general of Alaska, Delaware, and Rhode Island have the authority to prosecute any state criminal law violations within their state.
State Attorneys General Powers and Responsibilities
Published in 2019, the fourth edition of State Attorneys General Powers and Responsibilities is the most authoritative and complete source about the powers and responsibilities of state attorney general offices.
Attorney general staff can access courtesy chapters of State Attorneys General Powers and Responsibilities. You must be signed in to your NAAG account in order to access the chapters.
Common Areas of Interest
Attorneys general are increasingly gaining more authority from legislatures as states try to consolidate legal services.
Powers and Duties Database
NAAG has created the Powers and Duties Database regarding the powers, duties and responsibilities of state and territorial attorneys general. The goal of this member-only resource is to have a comprehensive tool for attorney general offices to use when facing challenges to their authority.
Courses and Trainings
- Elder Justice
- Medicaid Fraud
- Powers and Duties
- Public Health
As the Attorneys General of our respective states, we write in support of your legislation, H.R. 3891, that would expand the authority of Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs) to detect, investigate and prosecute Medicaid patient abuse in non-institutional settings.