Office of Attorney General

The attorney general, one of the state’s seven constitutional offices, is the state’s top law enforcement officer and consumer advocate.

The office of attorney general was not originally a constitutional office but rather was created by Act 1 of 1843, which designated the state’s attorney for its Fifth Judicial District as the attorney general. The first attorney general was Robert W. Johnson. The constitution of 1868 made the post elective, though it required only that the attorney general “perform such duties as are now, or may hereafter, be prescribed by law.” This was reaffirmed in the constitution of 1874. Act 131 of 1911 laid out four general responsibilities of the attorney general’s office: 1) to give opinions to state officers and agencies “upon any constitutional or other legal question that may concern the official action of said officers”; 2) to defend the interest of the state in federal court and representing all state officers, boards, and commissions in litigation involving the interests of the state; 3) to furnish any board or commission an opinion as to the validity of the title on any land they seek to purchase; and 4) to make a biennial report to the governor and the Arkansas General Assembly on all transactions of the attorney general’s office.

Among the divisions in the attorney general’s office are the Civil Department, which represents state agencies and officials named as defendants in lawsuits and serves as in-house counsel for such; Community Relations, which aids victims and offers education about issues of law and safety; the Criminal Department, which aims to uphold valid convictions and shape criminal legislation; the Medicaid Department, responsible for prosecuting Medicaid fraud; the Opinions Department, responsible for providing written legal opinions to state agencies; and the Public Protection Department, the consumer advocacy arm of the office.

Several attorneys general have been part of larger political machines. William Fosgate Kirby, for example, was handpicked by Governor Jeff Davis for the job and, while in office, worked fiercely to advance the governor’s antitrust policies. Bruce Bennett likewise embraced the segregationist policies of Governor Orval Faubus and authored a great deal of legislation designed specifically to harass civil rights groups; he later was implicated in several instances of fraud, having used his legal powers to help a company he had helped found dodge regulation.

The post of attorney general has frequently been a stepping stone for higher office in Arkansas politics, especially in the late 1960s and 1970s, when the office was publicly involved in consumer affairs, especially utility rate increases. (Governor Dale Bumpers sponsored the creation of a consumer protection division within the office of the attorney general.) James P. Clarke, Jeff Davis, Carl E. Bailey, Bill Clinton, and Mike Beebe all went directly from attorney general to be elected as governor, while others, such as Simon P. Hughes and Jim Guy Tucker, had a background of service as attorney general before running for governor. Ray Thornton and Tucker served as attorneys general before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Mark Pryor was elected to the U.S. Senate after one term as attorney general, and Kirby followed up his service with election to the Arkansas Supreme Court and, later, the U.S. Senate.Note: Attorneys general were appointed from 1843 to 1864. No party is listed for them in those years, or for others who were appointed to finish terms in 1865, 1866, 1915, 1934, 1962, 1973, 1977, 1990, 1991, and 2003.

NAME PARTY BEGAN ENDED
Robert W. Johnson 1843 1848
George C. Watkins 1848 1851
J. J. Clendenin 1851 1856
Thomas Johnson 1856 1858
J. L. Hollowell 1858 1861
P. Jordan 1861 1862
Sam W. Williams 1862 1864
Charles T. Jordan Rep 1864 1865
R. S. Gantt 1865 1866
R. H. Deadman 1866 1868
J. R. Montgomery Rep 1868 1873
T. D. W. Yonley Rep (Min) 1873 1874
James L. Witherspoon Dem May 1874 Nov 1874
Simon P. Hughes Dem 1874 1876
William F. Henderson Dem 1877 1881
Charles B. Moore Dem 1881 1885
Daniel W. Jones Dem 1885 1889
William E. Atkinson Dem 1889 1893
James P. Clarke Dem 1893 1895
E. B. Kinsworthy Dem 1895 1899
Jeff Davis Dem 1899 1901
George W. Murphy Dem 1901 1905
Robert L. Rogers Dem 1905 1907
William F. Kirby Dem 1907 1909
Hal L. Norwood Dem 1909 1913
William L. Moose Dem 1913 1915
Wallace Davis 1915 1917
John D. Arbuckle Dem 1917 1921
J. S. Utley Dem 1921 1925
W. H. Applegate Dem 1925 1929
Hal L. Norwood Dem 1929 1934
Walter L. Pope 1934 1935
Carl E. Bailey Dem 1935 1937
Jack Holt Dem 1937 1943
Guy E. Williams Dem 1943 1949
Ike Murry Dem 1949 1953
Tom Gentry Dem 1953 1957
Bruce Bennett Dem 1957 1961
J. Frank Holt Dem 1961 1961
Jack Holt Jr. 1962 1963
Bruce Bennett Dem 1963 1967
Joe Purcell Dem 1967 1971
Ray Thornton Dem 1971 1973
Rodney Parham 1973 1973
Jim Guy Tucker Dem 1973 1977
Bill Wilson 1977 1977
Bill Clinton Dem 1977 1979
Steve Clark Dem 1979 1990
Ron Fields 1990 1990
Mary Stallcup 1991 1991
Winston Bryant Dem 1991 1999
Mark Pryor Dem 1999 2003
Leon Johnson 2003 2003
Mike Beebe Dem 2003 2006
Dustin McDaniel Dem 2007 2015
Leslie Rutledge Rep 2015

For additional information:
Arkansas Attorney General. https://arkansasag.gov/ (accessed October 5, 2018).

Blair, Diane, and Jay Barth. Arkansas Politics and Government. 2nd ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated: 10/05/2018