Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
JUSTICE, Department of. The attorney general of the United States, although his office was created by congress as early as Sept. 24, 1789 (1 Stat. at Large, 92), was not made the head of a department until June 22, 1870, when the department of justice was created, (16 Stat. at Large, 162). By this act the various law officers of the government, whose functions under previously existing laws were to interpret and apply the statutes governing the business of the various departments and bureaus, and to prosecute violations of United States laws in certain cases, were placed under the supervision of the attorney general. One leading reason for creating a department of justice was to bring about uniformity in the construction and application of the laws, which had not been realized under the previously existing system, with half a dozen independent law officers, responsible to no common head.
—The attorney general is made the head of the department of justice, being the chief law officer of the government. He is one of the seven members of the cabinet; he advises the president on questions of law, and, when required, renders opinions to the heads of any of the executive departments upon legal questions arising as to the administration of any one of them. He is the representative of the United States in all matters involving legal questions. He has supervision of the United States district attorneys and marshals in the United States courts of the states and territories. He sometimes appears in the supreme court of the United States to argue causes in which the government is a party, and even sometimes (as in the notable star route cases of 1882) in a subordinate court of the United States. In all other cases, the attorney general directs what officer is to appear and argue cases in which the United States is interested, in the supreme court, the court of claims, or any other court, providing special counsel for the United States when in his judgment it is required.
—The office of solicitor general, created by the act of 1870, is the second office in the department of justice. He assists the attorney general, and in case of a vacancy in that office, or the absence of his chief, performs the duties of attorney general. The solicitor general conducts and argues United States cases in the courts at Washington, except when the attorney general otherwise directs. There are also two assistant attorneys general, whose duty it is to aid the attorney general and the solicitor general in the business of the department; one assists in the argument of causes in the supreme court, besides preparing legal opinions when called for; while the other conducts the cases in behalf of the United States in the court of claims.
—The official salaries of those connected with the department of justice (including the law officers of the executive departments, who by the law of 1870 exercise their functions under the supervision of the attorney general), are as follows: The attorney general, $8,000; the solicitor general, $7,000, two assistant attorneys general, each $5,000; assistant attorney general for the interior department, $5,000; assistant attorney general for the postoffice department, $4,000; solicitor of the treasury, $4,500; solicitor of internal revenue, $4,500; examiner of claims, state department, $3,500; twenty-four clerks and assistants, $73,600. The office of solicitor of the navy, formerly established. has been abolished, and a judge advocate general, with the rank and pay of a captain, has been substituted.
—Besides the conduct of law cases involving the interests or authority of the government, the department of justice is charged with the extensive and complicated business connected with the judicial establishment, including the appointment (or recommendation for appointment) of judges, attorneys and marshals of the circuit and district courts of the United States; the examination and allowance of the accounts of these courts, now numbering nine judicial circuits, and fifty-eight district courts in the states, besides nine United States courts in the territories and District of Columbia. The tenure of these judicial officers, and their salaries, are as follows: Judges of circuit courts, for life, $6,000 each; judges of the United States district courts, for life, salaries, $3,500 to $5,000. These judges, like those of the supreme court, may be retired on full pension after ten years continuous service, provided they have reached the age of seventy. The district attorneys and United States marshals are appointed for the term of four years by the president and senate; their salaries are $200 a year, and the fees received in judicial proceedings, as fixed by law, limited, however, to a maximum compensation of $6,000 per annum. The clerks of the United States courts are appointed by the judges, and are paid by fees limited to $3,500 per annum, except in the Pacific states, where the limit is $7,000. The total appropriation for judicial salaries for the year 1882 was $420,300, besides fees. The same year congress appropriated for the expenses of the courts of the United States, $2,950,000, including the fees. This is to cover the entire expenditure for jurors, witnesses, support of prisoners, special counsel. contingent expenses of the courts, etc.
—The offices of the department of justice occupy the same building with the court of claims, opposite the treasury department, on Pennsylvania avenue.
—Following is a complete list of the attorneys general of the United States, with their terms of office. Those whose names are repeated were reappointed by successive presidents. The list, though already given under the title ADMINISTRATIONS, is repeated here for the sake of convenience.
A. R. SPOFFORD.
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