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How Big Is the Department of Justice and What’s Its Authority?

The Department of Justice – or “DOJ”  – is the agency responsible for enforcing the federal law of the United States.  The Attorney General of the United States – appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate – heads the DOJ with its more than 100,000 attorneys, special agents, and other staff.  It represents the United States in federal criminal and civil litigation, and provides legal advice to the President and Cabinet.

The U.S. Attorneys – there is one appointed for each of the 93 federal judicial districts throughout the U.S. – act as the United States’ main litigators under the direction of the Attorney General.  The vast majority of federal cases are investigated and handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys located throughout the United States.

The United States Attorneys are statutorily responsible for the prosecution of criminal cases brought on behalf of the United States, the prosecution and defense of civil cases when the United States is a party, and the collection of debts owed to the federal government in certain instances.  Each U.S. Attorney’s Office deals with varied caseloads and has broad discretion in how to allocate resources to advance the priorities of each individual jurisdiction.

There are also groups within the DOJ with expertise to handle specialized matters.  They work mostly at “Main Justice” in Washington, D.C. and include: the Civil Division, the Criminal Division, the Antitrust Division, the Civil Rights Division, the Tax Division, and the Environment & Natural Resources Division.  Sometimes lawyers from Main Justice will work side-by-side with Assistant U.S. Attorneys in prosecuting or defending a case.

Aside from its lawyers, the Department of Justice also oversees a number of investigative and law enforcement agencies.  Those agencies include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the “FBI”), the Drug Enforcement Agency (the “DEA”), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (the “ATF”), the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Prisons (the “BOP”).  The leader of each of these agencies reports directly to the Attorney General.

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