If you have been paying any attention to the news over the last several months, you have probably heard more than a little discussion about the Department of Justice. With so much talk going on – about all levels of government – now would be an excellent time to brush up on your civic knowledge so that you can be an active and informed citizen participating in the greater national discourse. With that said, what better place to start than with the Department of Justice. Without further ado, let’s find out, what exactly is the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Let’s start off with a simple and clear definition. Simply put, the DOJ is a department of the executive branch of the government on the federal level. It is tasked with the responsibility of enforcing laws and administering justice. The express mission statement of the DOJ is the following:

“To enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”

The DOJ began as a quite diminutive branch of government. In fact, in its nascent days the entire department was staffed by one person, the Attorney General, a position which was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789. The Attorney General was tasked with the duty to “prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned.”

This job quickly became too large for just one man, which meant that additional staff had to be hired on to support the Attorney General. By 1870 the world load was so overwhelming that United States the services of a large number of very expensive private attorneys. Congress thought that this was kind of crazy (it was) so they passed the Act to Establish the Department of Justice. This eponymous piece of legislation accomplished exactly what it said it was going to… it established the Department of Justice!