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Attorney General - RG 108 | Illinois State Archives

Name: Attorney General - RG 108

Historical Note:

The Constitution of 1818 provided for the appointment of an Attorney General by the General Assembly and legislation subsequently was passed in 1819 defining the officer's duties (L. 1819, p. 204). He was to prosecute all suits on behalf of the state including those involving the state's revenue and all impeachments brought before the Senate or Supreme Court. He also was required to give written opinions to the Governor, Auditor of Public Accounts, or State Treasurer, when requested, on all questions of law relating to the public concerns of the state. The same legislation also provided for the appointment of circuit attorneys in three of the state's four judicial circuits and designated the Attorney General to act as the circuit attorney in the fourth circuit.

During the first constitutional period the Attorney General was appointed by a joint vote of the General Assembly. The term of appointment was four years until 1833 when it was reduced to two years (Rev. L. 1833, p. 103). The office was eliminated under the 1848 Constitution which omitted all references to the Attorney General.

The State of Illinois operated without an Attorney General for nineteen years until the office was recreated by an act of 1867 (L. 1867, p. 46). Under this act the Attorney General was popularly elected, again for a four-year term. His principal duties were to advise the Governor and other executive officers of the state, including the state's attorneys, and to give them written opinions on all legal questions relating to the rights, powers, and duties of these officers. Written opinions also were to be given to both houses of the General Assembly and to their committees on constitutional or legal questions. In addition the Attorney General was to institute, prosecute, or defend in the courts of the United States or the State of Illinois all actions, suits, or complaints in which the state was interested.

While the Constitutions of 1870 and 1970 retained these basic duties of the Attorney General specific legislation further has defined the Attorney General's responsibilities as the state's chief legal officer. In 1872 he was directed to defend all actions and proceedings against any state officer, prepare proper drafts for contracts, and enforce proper application of funds appropriated to state institutions (L. 1871, p. 189). He later became responsible for approving titles to lands acquired by the state and was to appear for and represent the interests of the state in all matters before the Court of Claims (L. 1917, p. 325). For 1919-1934 the Attorney General enforced the alcoholic liquor prohibition laws of the state (L. 1919, p. 930; L. 1921, p. 681; repealed L. 1933, 2d Spec. Sess., p. 57).

The Attorney General's other assigned duties have included the authority to institute prosecutions under anti-trust laws starting in 1891 (L. 1891, p. 206; L. 1965, p. 1943); the enforcement of regulations relating to life insurance companies until the responsibility was transferred to the Superintendent of Insurance (L. 1887, p. 202; L. 1899, p. 256); and the institution of court proceedings for the dissolution of corporations since 1893, except for the period 1899-1917 when articles of incorporation were canceled solely by the Secretary of State (L. 1893, p. 89; L. 1899, p.111; L. 1917, p. 292). The Attorney General also became responsible for enforcing the inheritance and gift tax laws in 1909 (L. 1909, p. 311) and for giving written approval to the opening of safety deposit boxes of deceased persons in 1941 (L. 1941, vol. 1, p. 1279). An act passed in 1943 directed the Attorney General to enforce racial anti-discrimination acts, creating a division within his office to investigate all violations of laws relating to civil rights, and undertake necessary enforcement measures to prevent discrimination (L. 1943, vol. 1, p. 210).

A law enacted in 1961 directed the Attorney General to investigate business activities relating to consumer fraud. If a suspected business failed to cooperate in the investigation or if unlawful practices were detected, the Attorney General was instructed to suspend that business’s operations through a court ordered injunction or revocation or suspension of its certificate of authority to do business within the state (L.1961, p. 1869).

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