The North Carolina attorney general is one of the state’s top elected officials. The N.C. attorney general is elected to a four-year term by statewide popular vote and serves as North Carolina’s top law enforcement official.
Here’s everything you need to know about the North Carolina attorney general role.
Who is currently the N.C. attorney general?
The North Carolina attorney general is Josh Stein. Stein is a Democrat serving in his first term, and the first new person in the role after now Gov. Roy Cooper’s 16-year tenure.
Previously, Stein had served under Cooper as his deputy attorney general in charge of consumer protection. Stein also represented Wake County in the North Carolina Senate.
What does the N.C. attorney general do?
The state constitution dictates that North Carolina have an attorney general but does not prescribe the role’s duties. Those are determined by general statutes. Here’s how the role is described in current state law.
The N.C. attorney general:
- Serves as head of the state Department of Justice, including the State Highway Patrol and State Bureau of Investigation.
- Represents the state in any civil or criminal proceedings it is a party to. The N.C. attorney general cannot legally delegate his duty to represent the state in criminal appeals cases.
- Creates legal opinions to address questions posed by the General Assembly.
- Files criminal or civil proceedings on behalf of the people of North Carolina and serving the public interest. This is how the attorney general’s office goes after bad actors.
- Signs consent judgments binding against the state or any state agency.
- Divvies up fines levied by the state.
The N.C. attorney general may not simultaneously work in private practice. As N.C. attorney general, Stein earns a salary of $125,676.
Who is qualified to be N.C. attorney general?
There are no special age requirements for the state attorney general position. However, the N.C. attorney general must be licensed to practice law in the state.
What happens when the N.C. attorney general disagrees on policy?
This has happened more frequently in the last decade as Republicans have controlled the General Assembly and Democrats have been state attorneys general.
State law gives the N.C. attorney general broad latitude to recuse himself from defending laws and policies. In fact, the law says the attorney general can do this “for any reason.” In that case, the N.C. attorney general can tap another state Department of Justice attorney to fill in. A more recent state law permits the General Assembly to hire its own counsel to do the job.
Why do people say “AG” stands for “Aspiring Governor”?
Many recent North Carolina governors have served as state attorney general before seeking the Executive Mansion. It’s easy to see why: The N.C. attorney general position must be elected statewide, has a visible job, and can point to being tough on crime.
Recent governors who served as attorney general include Gov. Roy Cooper and Gov. Mike Easley. Others have run unsuccessfully for governor, including Rufus Edmisten.
Cover photo by Josh Stein via Facebook