Seal of the Attorney General of North Carolina
|Term length||Four years|
|Inaugural holder||Waightstill Avery|
The Attorney General of North Carolina is the elected head of the state's Department of Justice. The North Carolina Constitution provides for the election of the Attorney General to serve a four-year term. There is no limit on the number of terms a person may serve in the office.
Attorney General's duties include providing legal representation and advice to all state agencies.
The parameters of that duty have been the subject of some debate, when, for example, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder suggested that state Attorneys General should not squander their state's resources in defense of laws they know to be unconstitutional. By statute, in defense of the public interest, the Attorney General may initiate legal action or intervene in proceedings before any courts, regulatory officers, agencies or bodies -- either state or federal -- on behalf of the state's agencies and citizens. The Attorney General also renders legal opinions, either formally or informally, upon all questions of law submitted by the General Assembly, the Governor, or any other state officer. Attorney General opinions may be viewed online.
The title "Attorney General" was used in colonial North Carolina as early as 1677, when George Durant was appointed by Governor John Jenkins. In theory, colonial Attorneys General represented the British Attorney General, who represented the Crown.
The first North Carolina Constitution (1776) established the office of state Attorney General. Like the state Governor, the Attorney General was at that time elected by the legislature, the North Carolina General Assembly. The first Attorney General for the independent state of North Carolina was Waightstill Avery, who served from 1777 to 1779. Two of Avery's successors, James Iredell and Alfred Moore, both served on the United States Supreme Court. Since 1868, the Attorney General has been elected by the people. At the same time, the Attorney General became a voting member of the Council of State, rather than the legal advisor to the council.
The North Carolina Department of Justice was created by the legislature in the early 1970s.
Occupants of the office often run for Governor of North Carolina or U.S. Senator, some of them successfully, such as former Governor Mike Easley, former Senator Robert B. Morgan, and the current Governor, Roy Cooper.