Justice, United States Department of, federal executive department established in 1870 and charged with providing the means for enforcing federal laws, furnishing legal counsel in federal cases, and construing the laws under which other federal executive departments act. The department is headed by the U.S. Attorney General, the chief U.S. law officer and an original cabinet member.
Before the formation of the Dept. of Justice, the attorney general had represented the government in legal matters and given legal advice to the executive branch under the authority of the Judiciary Act of 1789, but there was no executive department to assist in carrying out the duties of the office. Because of the mounting responsibilities of the attorney general and because of the growing need for uniformity in the administration of law, a department was created. The act of 1870 also set up the office of solicitor general to represent the government in Supreme Court cases.
The Dept. of Justice comprises six specialized divisions (the Antitrust Division, the Civil Division, the Civil Rights Division, the Criminal Division, the Environment and Natural Resources Division, and the Tax Division). The Justice Dept. also includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Prisons, the United States Marshals Service (the nation's oldest federal law enforcement agency), the U.S. Central Bureau–International Criminal Police Organization, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Office of Justice Programs.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.