What Every American Should Know About the Department of Justice


Ever got a traffic ticket? Had to appear in court? Got in trouble with the law?

Then, on really small scale, you’ve dealt with the Department of Justice or DOJ. As citizens and residents, however, we sometimes have a hard time identifying with the DOJ and aren’t always exactly sure what they do and how. This post is going to change that.

Even before the DOJ was created, the role of Attorney General (AG) was enacted by the Judiciary Act of 1789 to serve as legal adviser to the President and represent the federal government in court. Then, in 1870, the Department of Justice was created to provide the AG with a full staff to administer justice in other capacities, like operating the federal prison system, prevent crime, and protect the US from domestic and international threats. No big deal.

With the creation of the DOJ in 1870, the role of representing the US in court was given to the newly created role of Solicitor General. Also newly created were the positions of Deputy Attorney General and Associate Attorney General, both of whose primary functions are to support the AG in formulating and executing policies and initiatives throughout the US. So now you know — the AG isn’t the only General in the DOJ. Check out the organization chart below to better understand how the DOJ is set up.


And anytime you hear about the California or Nebraska Attorney General, just know each state has their own AG, overseeing the justice department of their own state. They perform similar tasks as the US Attorney General, but more specifically for their respective state.

Let’s take a moment to make a distinction between the Department of Justice and Supreme Court. They seem like they would be interrelated considering they both pertain to justice and law. They are actually not — the Supreme Court stands alone as the Judicial branch of the US Federal Government while the Department of Justice serves as a cabinet-level agency of the Executive branch. The Supreme Court is where cases are made, while the DOJ executes administration of justice and law on behalf of the President. Kapish? Moving on.

Let’s talk DOJ divisions

The Department of Justice oversees six functional divisions: the Antitrust Division, the Civil Division, the Civil Rights Division, the Criminal Division, the Environment and Natural Resources Division, and the Tax Division. In addition to these, the DOJ also includes other sub-agencies such as:

- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Federal Bureau of Prison
- Drug Enforcement Agency
- Project Safe Childhood
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
- Office for Victims of Crime
- Environment and Natural Resources Division
- And others

If you’re curious enough, you can find the entire list here. Too many divisions, you say? Let’s take a deeper look at just three of them.

Attorney General

The Attorney General is the head honcho of the entire Department of Justice, which consists of over 118,000 attorneys, agents, officers, analysts, and administrative staff. Compare that to the 4,400 employed with the Department of Education and the 1,668 with the Federal Communications Commission. So, what does the Attorney General do? Generally, and as mentioned above, he oversees the entire DOJ as the chief law enforcer of the US and legal adviser to the President and the Cabinet (the group of advisers supporting the President).

How does one become an AG? The President nominates his pick for AG and the Senate confirms. The President is able to give the boot to an AG at any time, which explains why the individual holding the position changes when a new President takes the Oval Office.

Drug Enforcement Agency

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) doesn’t just play the good guys in blockbusters like Bad Boyz II, Sabotage, and Narcos (not a movie, but still). The DEA serves as the law enforcement agency focused on combating the sale and distribution of illegal substances, which include opium, heroin, morphine, and marijuana. The DEA also enforces anti-drug laws and investigates major drug criminals operating domestically and internationally.

Interestingly, as many prescription drugs contain doses of narcotics and can be taken in un-prescribed ways to produce similar effects as actual narcotics, the DEA also includes the Diversion Control Division, which works to regulate and prevent the abuse of prescription drugs in their overarching battle against narcotics. Now, in addition to the violent drug lords, learned doctors in white coats are dragged into battle for illegally prescribing drugs to patients exhibiting symptoms of addiction and abuse or to patients who don’t medically require the prescription drugs. Check this to read up on the cases closed in 2017 so far.

INTERPOL Washington

INTERPOL Washington is the US point of contact for the International Criminal Police Organization or INTERPOL, which was created in 1923 with 24 countries. Today, 190 nations participate in INTERPOL creating a police force serving the global community by collaboratively combating international crime. Each participating country has an office that maintains communication with INTERPOL; and INTERPOL Washington, located in Washington, D.C. (surprise!), is the US’ office.

INTERPOL Washington works with the other 189 bureaus to solve international crimes and bring offenders to prosecution in the appropriate country. While it is involved with protecting and establishing international safety, it does not employ any agents, like the FBI or DEA. Like the other countries, INTERPOL Washington’s role is more of a collaborative one in which it provides intelligence, data, resources, and communications to assist in international investigations.

It’s crazy to think that these are just three of the forty offices within the Department of Justice. It’s a tall order to answer to — protecting a country the size of United States, with all of its complexities and variances. With all the issues raised with the current Attorney General — knowing a little more about the role of the DOJ, should help make a little more sense of it all.

Just know that the DOJ was ultimately created for the safety, protection, and administration of justice in our lives. Getting that ticket for speeding or running the red still may suck, but those laws and consequences we easily deem as unfair and a nuisance are put in place for the good of the people, you included.

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