How can the A.G. effect change?

How big a deal is it that John Ashcroft is pro-life, anti-gun control, and so on? What can he do that would actually bring about change in the laws regarding issues he feels strongly about? Can he do it by choosing which cases to prosecute? As offensive as he may be to some, what power does the Attorney General really have?

For the sake of keeping this in General Questions, rather than Great Debates, can we consider the question to be “What are the powers of the Attorney General”, rather than a question about Ashcroft specifically? Thanks.

While it’s true that the Attorney General does not, himself, create laws, as head of the Justice Department he can wield no small influence on the creation of laws. The Department typically testifies before Congress when the latter body is considering new legislation.

More sobering is the ability of the Justice Department to influence policy by refusing to prosecute certain types of cases, under the ambit of prosecutorial discretion. For example, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Miranda v. Arizona, in 1968 Congress passed a law that sought to ‘overturn’ Miranda by making voluntariness the standard for admission of confessions in federal courts, rather than the administration of Miranda warnings. The Justice Department refused to argue that law, and voluntarily surrended suppression hearings if the Miranda rights weren’t read. It wasn’t until last year that the issue was finally decided by the Supreme Court - which, by the way, upheld the Miranda decision and overturned Congress’ law. One of the reasons relied upon by the Court was, in essence, “We’ve been doing things this way for thity years now.”

I could argue that, but for the decisions of several Attornies General, we would not have been doing things that way for thirty years.

  • Rick

Remember- the President is the head of the executive branch, meaning that it is his job to make sure that laws are executed. The Attorney General is one of the main actors in this through how he directs the Justice Department.

For example, (as many pro-choice people feel,) Ashcroft could refuse to enforce the law which makes it illegal to protest within a certain distance of an abortion clinic. Therefore, the law is pretty much null and void should Ashcroft choose not to enforce it.

Likewise, the major actions against tobacco companies and Microsoft were handled by (or spearheaded by) the Justice Department; once Ashcroft becomes A.G., Gates might find the government willing to settle on much more lenient demands (or more stringent, but that’s kind of doubtful).