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Attorney General Texas - The Duties of the Texas Attorney General

historical perspective evolution of the office

The attorney general of Texas is charged with a variety of duties and responsibilities. Foremost among these include:

  • Defending the laws and Constitution of the United States
  • Representing the state in litigation
  • approving public bond issues

In outlining the obligations of the attorney general, the Texas constitution empowers the office to be the exclusive legal counsel to all of the state agencies and boards. The attorney general also issues legal opinions at the request of the Governor, state agency department heads, and any other officials as outlined in Texas statutes.

In an effort to provide sufficient authority to the attorney general, Texas gave the office the responsibility to protect the rights of all of the citizens of the state. This broad authority results in enforcement of consumer and safety regulations, health laws, and laws pertaining to the rights of the disabled and elderly. Overall, there are almost 2000 references to the attorney general in Texas statutes. Divisions of the Texas attorney general’s department include civil litigation, criminal justice, child support, legal counsel and the office of Solicitor General.

Other constitutionally mandated requirements of the Texas attorney general include civil suit responsibility by state agency referral and certain criminal prosecutions when requested by a local prosecutor. The office also assists in extradition proceedings, opening investigations into possible illegal activities and enforcement of regulatory and antitrust laws relating to registered corporations. Tax and environmental law proceedings are also areas within the scope of the attorney general’s office

Historical Perspective

The office of attorney general in Texas was first established in 1836 by executive ordinance based primarily on British and Spanish law templates. The first four attorneys general were appointed by the governor, while subsequent office holders have been elected. In the Texas Constitution of 1876, the attorney general’s office is one of seven established executive departments that comprise the Texas state government.

The manner is which the law is interpreted and enforced is largely a result of the personality of the individual that holds the office. Important cases in Texas legal history include the Tidelands controversy litigated under Attorney General Daniel Price (1947-53). In this case the federal government had seized submerged offshore oil land from coastal states including Texas. Although Price lost the case in federal court, the tide of public opinion prompted Congress to pass a law protecting the integrity of the state’s right to control certain land.

Texas Attorney General John Ben Sheppard (1953-57) was involved in a case that dismantled the political machine of George Parr through a series of civil litigation lawsuits. George Wilson (1957-63) was a national leader in prosecuting organized gambling interests and other illegal activities through the use of civil authority provisions.

Evolution of the Office

Due to the unique placement of the attorney general in the Texas political landscape, the office has evolved significantly over time. This influence results from a variety of factors that stem primarily from expanding functional authority and very specific limits on the powers of other state officials. Judicial reversal is a rarity, and the legislature has traditionally shown no appetite to curb the attorney general’s powers over civil litigation. In fact, many aspiring political figures in Texas and even on the national level have used the attorney general’s office as a springboard to broader political ambitions.

The Texas attorney general is a primary tool for the executive branch of government to achieve policy change through the interpretation of statutory and constitutional law. In Texas, the attorney general serves a vital function in mediating disputes where the political system and the legal system are in conflict.

In regards to the current attorney general, Texas voters elected Gregg Abbot in 2002. The attorney general’s office is currently involved in a number of high profile cases including the issue of homosexual marriage, insurance fraud and a lawsuit against BP for damages resulting from the catastrophic oil spill.

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