Department of Justice

views updated

Department of Justice

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is a branch of the U.S. government. Its purpose is to enforce the law and to ensure fair and impartial (nonbiased) administration of justice for all American citizens.

The DOJ has many responsibilities. It represents the United States in all legal matters, enforces immigration laws, manages the immigration process, maintains the federal prison system, and investigates and prosecutes all violations of federal laws.

The administrator of the DOJ is the attorney general. This position was established by the Judiciary Act of 1789 and was originally a part-time job. In 1867, the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary began considering the creation of a law department that would be led by the attorney general and include other attorneys from various departments. The DOJ was officially created on July 1, 1870.

Today, the attorney general oversees eight divisions: Antitrust, Civil, Civil Rights, Criminal, Environment and Natural Resources, Justice Management, National Security, and Tax. In addition, there are five law enforcement agencies within the organization. These include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Federal Bureau of Prisons; and the U.S. Marshals Service.

In 2003, the DOJ underwent some reorganization. At that time, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was dismantled. Most of its functions were given to three new agencies inside the Homeland Security Department , a branch of the U.S. government created shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks .

The attorney general represents the United States in legal matters and provides advice and opinions to the U.S. president. One of the leader's most important duties is to oversee all criminal prosecutions and civil suits that are of national interest to the United States. The structure of the DOJ has changed in ways large and small over the years. In the twenty-first century, it is the largest law office in the world as well as the central office for the enforcement of all federal laws.

Although much of what the DOJ deals with involves crime, it does participate in public service endeavors as well. For example, it partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Ad Council to develop Project Safe Childhood. This initiative produces public service announcements to combat Internet sexual exploitation crimes against children, and it hosts a Web site full of safety information for parents and others who work and live with children.

Another public service effort undertaken by the DOJ is the Hurricane Katrina Task Force. Its mission is to detect and prosecute instances of fraud related to the Hurricane Katrina disaster that devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005.

The DOJ organized initiatives to target gang violence and at-risk youth and implemented a Faith Based and Community Initiatives Task Force, which identifies funding opportunities for faith- and community-based organizations. Once those opportunities are identified, the DOJ works with the organizations to help them apply for appropriate funding.

Because of the nature of the DOJ, it is not a department without scandal. The year 2006 was one of controversy for the DOJ. Under the leadership of Alberto Gonzales (1955–), the DOJ and specifically, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), were accused of using the USA PATRIOT Act illegally to uncover personal information about U.S. citizens. The PATRIOT Act became law in October 2001 following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The act expands the power of federal law enforcement agencies for the purpose of fighting terrorism. It also expands the definition of the word “terrorism” itself. Since its passage, the act has been criticized for weakening the protection of individual civil liberties, most notably those of immigrants.

In addition to the PATRIOT Act controversy, Gonzales fired seven federal prosecutors in December 2006; another resigned after being informed he was to be dismissed. These attorneys were not given reasons for their dismissal, and investigation into the matter revealed that at least six of the eight had good performance records within the DOJ. Further investigation revealed that Gonzales was less than truthful regarding the situation, and in his testimony, he stated at least seventy-one times that he could not recall events related to the matter. Gonzales resigned late in 2007, but the reputation of the DOJ suffered greatly.

The Department of Justice Building was completed in 1935 in Washington, D.C. In 2001, it was renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building after former attorney general Robert F. Kennedy (1925–1968). The DOJ operated on an annual budget of $43.5 billion in 2007 and employed more than 113,000 people.

About this article

Department of Justice

Updated About content Print Article


Department of Justice