AG Policy Areas
State attorneys general have comprehensive authority to represent the legal and policy interests of their respective states. Under both common law, state constitutions and statutes, state attorneys general have the power to enforce laws that protect consumers, enforce state and federal environmental laws, oversee and regulate the nonprofit sector within their jurisdictions, and ensure equitable working conditions by holding companies and individuals accountable under state labor laws. State attorneys general also work on emerging issues, such as reforming the criminal justice system, combatting predatory lending practices, or deploying office resources in the aftermath of a natural or man-made disaster.
This section highlights some of the policy issues a typical state attorney general’s office may encounter. Resources include a wide range of state-federal cases, policy papers and law review articles on particular policy areas, news articles, and audiovisual materials.
The National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School served as the first publicly available resource on the role of state attorneys general in public policy. StateAG.org will continue these efforts by providing updated resources on these and other emerging policy areas.
State attorneys general have a rich history of working with the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division, the Federal Trade Commission, businesses, and the private bar to protect consumers through antitrust regulation.
State attorneys general are at the forefront of protecting charitable assets and ensuring their lawful and intended use in the public interest. State attorneys general are tasked with investigating and, when necessary, initiating legal actions against charitable organizations; overseeing nonprofits during mergers, conversions and acquisitions; and reviewing actions taken by executors and trustees where a will or trust contains a charitable gift.
In order to foster a comprehensive approach by state attorneys general in their supervisory responsibilities over nonprofit organizations, the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School created the Charities Regulation and Oversight Project ("Charities Project"). Developed and led by Cindy M. Lott, the Charities Project was the oldest and most comprehensive initiative of the Program.
Attorneys General bear unique responsibilities in protecting consumers from misinformation, scams, and negligence. Attorneys general work with consumers, the business community, the private bar, and the federal government to ensure that consumers are treated legally and fairly in the marketplace.
Criminal Justice Reform
The primary task of reforming criminal justice in the United States falls to state and local officials. State attorneys general in many states are using an array of approaches to address systemic criminal justice issues, such as mass incarceration, policing practices, and changes in criminal sentencing.
Although state environmental regulations can be both scientifically and legally complex, as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, state attorneys general play an important role in the area of environmental policy. In some states, attorneys general have direct enforcement authority, but in all states the attorney general represents state environmental agencies. Sometimes this means enforcing existing statutes and regulations while at other times it means defending challenges to agency permitting decisions or rules brought by private parties.
State attorneys general have a track record of health advocacy. Whether representing state health agencies, implementing the Affordable Care Act, or reviewing health care provider mergers, attorneys general role in the area of public health is broad and often not understood. In addition to agency representation, attorneys general are also active in Medicaid Fraud prosecutions, hospital mergers and regulation, anti smoking initiatives, and food policy. State attorneys general are extraordinary voices in advocating on behalf of our nation’s health.
All attorneys general are wrestling with the myriad of challenges inherent in the nation’s increased diversity. Cutting across all areas of state law enforcement, attorneys general are dedicated to protecting all residents through their office’s law enforcement mandate by making sure that all state agencies comply with the law, and by safeguarding the immigrant communities' access to a public services.
Since the development of workplace rights in the early 20th century, attorneys general offices have had the responsibility to enforce state labor laws either directly or through the representation of a state agency. Attorneys general are currently expanding that role by working both with their state labor agencies and independently taking actions.