Justice, Department of

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JUSTICE, DEPARTMENT OF. Congress created the Department of Justice (DOJ) on 22 June 1870, naming the attorney general as its head. The department's mandate includes, among other obligations, representing citizens of the United States, protecting them against criminal activity through proper law enforcement, ensuring healthy business competition, and enforcing drug, immigration, and naturalization laws. In addition, the department represents the United States in any case argued before the Supreme Court that involves U.S. interests, assists the government in various legal matters by offering legal advice, and provides legal opinions to the president and heads of executive departments.

Prior to the 1870, the U.S. attorney general, whose post was created in the Judiciary Act of 1789, served as a member of the president's cabinet but did not head a specific department. The attorney general is responsible for ensuring that the federal government does not exercise power unfairly, inconsistently, or arbitrarily. For many years, attorneys general served almost solely as legal counsel to the president. Other cabinet departments used their own attorneys for legal affairs; the U.S. district attorneys trying federal cases operated independently. (The attorney general led a staff so small that special counsel and investigators had to be retained whenever an important case arose.)

As the number of federal offenses rose and civil litigation increased, Congress expanded the scope of the Department of Justice, putting the attorney general in charge of substantially all federal prosecution and litigation and creating an organization that could grow in response to future legislation and government needs. During the Progressive Era around the turn of the twentieth century, many Americans came to believe that the government needed to intervene in daily life to create justice. Accordingly, a need to expand the Department of Justice was perceived.

On 26 July 1908, Attorney General Charles Bonaparte named a group of former Secret Service employees and Department of Justice investigators to posts as special agents of the Department of Justice. This investigative arm, led by Chief Examiner Stanley W. Finch, was dubbed the Bureau of Investigation, which later expanded its name to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In 1909, the DOJ established a criminal division charged with enforcing and supervising application of federal criminal law.

The federal government's increased interest in developing public lands resulted in the development of a lands division in 1910; this division later became the land and natural resources division. Eventually, other legislation, such as antitrust laws, created a need for more special offices. In the extensive departmental reorganization of 1933, several of these offices were expanded into divisions, including the tax division and antitrust division, which is charged with keeping markets competitive by policing acts that restrain trade or commerce. The claims division, which later became the civil division, also emerged from this reorganization. The largest legal assembly in the Department of Justice, the civil division legally represents the United States, its departments and agencies, members of Congress, cabinet officers, and other federal employees when the need arises.

Other specialized divisions continued to be created. In 1940, the government officially moved control of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) office from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice. In 1957, a time when the civil rights movement was at its height, the DOJ created a civil rights division and gave it the task of enforcing federal statutes that prohibited discrimination. In 1964, the DOJ created the Office of Criminal Justice. The following year, the DOJ extended its criminal justice efforts when it created the Office of Law Enforcement Assistance, which had the task of helping states and local jurisdictions upgrade their criminal justice systems. The department's mandate to ensure civil rights was reinforced in 1966 when the Community Relations Service was transferred from the Department of Commerce to the DOJ. Created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Community Relations Service has a mission of preventing and resolving incidents that occur because of differences in race, color, or national origin.

As the drug trade burgeoned in the 1960s, Congress authorized the creation of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in 1968. In 1972, President Richard Nixon created the Office for Drug Abuse Law Enforcement, which was charged with coordinating all federal and state efforts, and the Office of National Narcotics Intelligence, which was developed to be a clearinghouse for information on drug trafficking. The next year, President Nixon streamlined the war on drugs by combining five federal drug enforcement agencies to create the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) within the Department of Justice. The DEA is the main domestic enforcer of federal drug laws and bears sole responsibility for coordinating and pursuing U.S. drug investigations abroad. In 2002, the DOJ again stepped up efforts to stop the growing, importation, and sale of illegal drugs when it established the National Drug Intelligence Center, which was as the nation's principal center for strategic domestic counterdrug intelligence.

Following major terrorist acts on American soil in 2001, the DOJ shifted its focus from battling drugs to combating terrorism. On 5 March 2002, the department created the National Security Coordination Council of the Department of Justice; its principal mission is to facilitate seamless coordination of department functions relating to national security and terrorism. The council included the attorney general, the director of the FBI, the commissioner of the INS, the chief of staff of the attorney general, the assistant attorney general of the criminal division, and the assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice programs.

The Department of Justice, which is the largest law office in the world, has grown from its meager beginnings to an organization comprising nearly forty components and more than 30,000 employees.


Huston, Luther A. The Department of Justice. New York: Praeger, 1967.

Langeluttig, Albert George. The Department of Justice of the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1927.

James T.Scott

See alsoFederal Agencies .

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Justice, Department of

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