Would you have voted for John Ashcroft?

Attorneys General: Elected vs. Appointed

I recently replied to a tweet about D.C.’s electing an attorney general by contending that election entails almost as many pitfalls as appointment does. Someone from the District of Columbia then asked me to explain my point, and I promised that I would do so. The result is this paper (PDF) about the advantages and disadvantages of electing or appointing an attorney general. Although I strongly favor the Federal nomination-confirmation method of selecting executive-branch officers, my paper does not argue strongly in favor of appointment because I did not find any compelling reasons to prefer one over the other. Instead, I present my best and worst reasons to appoint or elect an attorney general as follows.

Best Reason Worst Reason
Appoint Deliberative selection process, though often influenced by politics Turnover, especially because of reassignments to other positions
Elect Stability, though not guaranteed Influence of campaign contributions

To expound on the matter of stability, I had wanted to compare average tenures of attorneys general in select appointment states to the averages in comparable election states, but the data required was not readily available. Neither Wyoming nor New Hampshire, both appointment states, list past attorneys general on their websites, although New Jersey does. A resource that might have this data is Powers And Duties Of The Attorneys General, 3rd ed. (Emily Myers, Editor), published by the National Association of Attorneys General.

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