Attorney General of Virginia

The Attorney General of Virginia is an elected constitutional position that holds an executive office in the government of Virginia. Attorneys General are elected for a four-year term in the year following a presidential election (2005, 2009, 2013, etc.). There are no term limits restricting the number of terms someone can serve as Attorney General.[1]

Attorney General of Virginia
Seal of the Attorney General of Virginia
Mark Herring

since January 11, 2014
StyleThe Honorable
TypeElected constitutional position
Term lengthFour years
First holderEdmund Randolph


The position of Attorney General is established by Article V, Section 15 of the Constitution of Virginia, and they are elected for the same time and term as the Governor. To stand for Attorney General, a person must be at least thirty years old, be a citizen of the United States, and have the same qualifications required of a Virginia Circuit Court judge.[2]


The Attorney General heads the Office of the Attorney General, also known as the Department of Law. The Attorney General and their Office have several duties and powers granted by state law. These include:

  • Providing legal advice and representation in court for the Governor and the state government in general
  • Providing legal advice, official opinions, to members of the Virginia General Assembly and local government officials
  • Defending the state in cases of criminal appeals and suits against the state
  • Defending the constitutionality of state laws
  • Collecting money owed to various state institutions

In order to fulfill these responsibilities, the Attorney General oversees one of the largest law firms in Virginia. The full-time staff includes a chief deputy attorney general, five deputy attorneys general and about 150 assistant attorneys general, 40 additional full-time lawyers appointed as special counsel to particular agencies, and 140 legal assistants, legal secretaries and other professional support staff. The Office of the Attorney General is structured very much like a private law firm, with sections devoted to legal specialties.

The Attorney General is second in the line of gubernatorial succession. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Governor of Virginia, the Governor is replaced by the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. However, if there is also a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Governor, then the Attorney General becomes Governor.[2]

Stepping stone to higher office

Because it is one of only three statewide elected offices in the state government, the post of Attorney General is seen as a stepping-stone to higher office, especially Governor of Virginia. Along with the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, the Attorney General is seen as one of two candidates in contention to replace the sitting Governor, who is constitutionally barred from running for re-election. Following the 2001 election of Governor Mark Warner, it was widely believed that the 2005 election would be between then-Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine and then-Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, which is precisely what occurred, with Kaine winning and becoming Virginia's 70th Governor. A similar scenario occurred in 1981, when then-Lieutenant Governor Chuck Robb defeated then-Attorney General Marshall Coleman and again in 1997 when then-Attorney General Jim Gilmore defeated then-Lieutenant Governor Don Beyer.

When separate parties capture the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor's offices, these officeholders are seen as the clear frontrunners for their parties' nominations in the next gubernatorial election. When the same party captures both offices, intraparty rivalries and rifts can develop around which person should be the next gubernatorial nominee. For example, in 2001, there was a bitter intraparty battle in the Republican party between Attorney General Mark Earley, who was strongly backed by social conservatives, and Lieutenant Governor John H. Hager, who was backed by other factions of the party. Earley prevailed, but Hager and many of his supporters gave only perfunctory endorsements of Earley or openly supported the successful Democratic nominee Mark Warner. A comparable intramural battle occurred in 2013, when social conservatives and Tea Party Virginians backed Ken Cuccinelli, with more moderate conservatives backing Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. The Virginia Republican Party, led by backers of Cuccinelli, changed the nomination procedure from a statewide primary to a nomination by convention. Cuccinelli won the nomination in 2013. When one party captures neither office, it is left without a frontrunner for the next gubernatorial election. However, this allowed two of the most popular recent governors, Warner and George Allen, to win their parties' nominations and the subsequent elections without having held statewide office.

It is a Virginia tradition[3][4] that Attorneys General who are running for Governor resign from office before the conclusion of the four-year term for which they are elected. This has provided political fodder for their opponents, with Mark Earley criticized early in 2001 for not resigning (though he would resign in June of that year), with critics saying he could not campaign and serve effectively as Attorney General simultaneously, while Jerry Kilgore was criticized for resigning when he did so in February 2005, with critics saying he was abandoning his responsibilities to campaign. Similarly, in February 2009, then Attorney General Bob McDonnell resigned to focus primarily on his campaign for governor. Some Attorneys General have not resigned, including Marshall Coleman in 1981 and Ken Cuccinelli in 2013. When an Attorney General resigns, it is the responsibility of the Virginia General Assembly to elect a replacement to finish the term of office. Often the Chief Deputy Attorney General is chosen, as in the case of Judith Jagdmann.

List of Attorneys General

Attorneys General of colonial Virginia

Records of this period are sparse. The attorney general was appointed by the King, a combination of the governor and council, or the governor or acting governor. There was no term of office, and the office may have been vacant for extended periods.[5]

Name Term Notes
Richard Lee October 12, 1643 - ? Appointed by Governor William Berkeley and Council
(Office not in use?) 1652–1660 Office apparently vacant during the Interregnum
Peter Jenings Before June 25, 1670 - c. October 12, 1670 Reappointed by Charles II of England on September 15, 1670
George Jordan October 12, 1670 - at least October 3, 1672 Appointed by Governor William Berkeley and Council
Robert Beverley March 10, 1676 (appointed)[6] Appointed by Governor William Berkeley and Council
George Jordan Acting on May 20, 1677
William Sherwood Early March 1677 - at least until November 25, 1678
Edmund Jenings 1680 - before November 16, 1686
George Brent Before November 16, 1686 - before May 1, 1688 Acting
Edmund Jenings c. May 1, 1688 - June 10, 1691
Edward Chilton[7] October 20, 1691 (sworn) - April 1694 Appointed by Governor Francis Nicholson. Resigned.
William Randolph April 1694 (sworn) - October 29, 1698 Appointed by Governor Francis Nicholson. Resigned.
Bartholomew Fowler October 29, 1698 - September 4, 1700 Appointed by Governor Francis Nicholson. Resigned.
Benjamin Harrison III October 17, 1700 - c. 1702 Appointed by Governor Francis Nicholson and Council.
Stevens Thomson March 2, 1704 (sworn) - February 1714 Privy Council approved appointment July 30, 1703. Died in office.
John Clayton 1714 - November 18, 1737 Appointed by Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood, given leave to England[8]
John Randolph April 22, 1726 - late 1727 or early 1728 Appointed acting by Lieutenant Governor William Gooch in Clayton's absence
John Clayton late 1727 or early 1728 - November 18, 1737 Reappointed by royal warrant after February 29, 1728. Died in office
Edward Barradall Acting between November 17 and 25, 1737 - June 19, 1743 Appointed acting by Lieutenant Governor William Gooch, followed by warrant March 7, 1738, died in office
Thomas Nelson Between June 19 and 27, 1743 - summer 1744 Appointed acting by Lieutenant Governor William Gooch
Peyton Randolph May 7, 1744 (warrant) - sometime before January 29, 1754 Office declared forfeit on June 20, 1754
Peyton Randolph May 13, 1755 (warrant) - sometime soon after November 22, 1766 Resigned
George Wythe c. January 29, 1754 - between January 20 and February 10, 1755 Appointed acing by Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie
George Wythe c. after November 22, 1766 - between June 4 and 11, 1767 Appointed acing by Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier
John Randolph Between June 4 and 11, 1767 to early September 1775 (fled) Fled Virginia in September 1775

Attorneys General, 1776–1857

From 1776 to 1851, the attorney general was elected by the General Assembly, or, in case of vacancy, appointed by the governor for an undefined term. The Virginia Constitution of 1851 introduced popular election and four-year terms. After the 1851 constitution, vacancies would be filled by the General Assembly, if they were in session, or by the governor.

Name Term Party Notes
Edmund Randolph early July 1776 - November 30, 1786 Elected by convention
James Innes November 30, 1786 - November 13, 1796 Resigned
John Marshall mid-October 1794 until late March 1795 Acting
Robert Brooke mid-November 1796–February 27, 1800 Democratic-Republican Died in office
Philip Norborne Nicholas March 15, 1800 – January 7, 1819 Democratic-Republican Appointed by Governor James Monroe, elected by General Assembly, resigned
John Robertson January 21, 1819 – mid-October 1834 Democratic Resigned
Sidney Smith Baxter December 11, 1834 – January 1, 1852 Democratic
Willis Perry Bocock January 1, 1852 – May 15, 1857 Democratic Resigned

Attorneys General during the Civil War and Reconstruction

Tucker served as the attorney general of Confederate Virginia throughout the Civil War. Wheat and Bowden served as the attorney generals for Restored Government of Virginia. From 1865 to 1870, the commanding general of the military district of Virginia appointed the office.

Name Term Party Notes
John Randolph Tucker June 13, 1857 – May 9, 1865 Democratic Confederate Attorney General throughout war. Left office when government abandoned Richmond.
James S. Wheat June 21, 1861 – December 7, 1863 Republican Elected at the Wheeling Convention and then in a May 1862 election for the Restored Government of Virginia in Wheeling.
Thomas Russell Bowden December 7, 1863 – August 1, 1869 Unionist/Republican Attorney general for the Restored Government of Virginia in Wheeling, then Alexandria, after West Virginia separated, and in post-war Reconstruction Virginia.
Charles Whittlesey September 10, 1869 – January 19, 1870 Republican Appointed and removed by Brigadier General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby
James Craig Taylor January 19, 1870 - January 1, 1874 Conservative Party of Virginia Appointed by Brigadier General Canby after winning election (moving forward swearing-in date)

Attorneys General, 1874–present

Name Term Party Notes
Raleigh Travers Daniel[9] January 1, 1874 – August 16, 1877 Conservative Party of Virginia Died in office
James Gavin Field August 29, 1877 – January 1, 1882 Conservative Party of Virginia Appointed and then elected
Francis Simpson Blair January 1, 1882 – January 1, 1886 Readjuster Party[10]
Rufus A. Ayers January 1, 1886 – January 1, 1890 Democratic
R. Taylor Scott January 1, 1890 – August 5, 1897 Democratic Died in office
Richard Carter Scott August 11, 1897 – January 1, 1898 Democratic appointed by Governor Charles T. O'Ferrall
Andrew Jackson Montague January 1, 1898 – January 1, 1902 Democratic Became governor January 1, 1902
William Alexander Anderson January 1, 1902 – February 1, 1910 Democratic
Samuel Walker Williams February 1, 1910 – February 2, 1914 Democratic
John Garland Pollard February 2, 1914 – January 5, 1918 Democratic Resigned.
Josiah Dickenson Hank, Jr. January 5, 1918 - February 1, 1918 Democratic Appointed by Governor Henry C. Stuart
John R. Saunders February 1, 1918 – March 17, 1934 Democratic Died in office
Abram Penn Staples March 22, 1934 – October 6, 1947 Democratic Resigned to become judge of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals
Harvey Black Apperson October 7, 1947 – February 2, 1948 Democratic Appointed by Governor; Died in office
James Lindsay Almond February 11, 1948 – September 16, 1957 Democratic Resigned to run for Governor
Kenneth Cartwright Patty September 1957 – January 1958 Democratic Appointed by Governor
Albertis Sydney Harrison January 1958 – April 1961 Democratic Resigned to run for Governor
Frederick Thomas Gray May 1961 – January 1962 Democratic Appointed by Governor
Robert Young Button January 1962 – January 1970 Democratic [11]
Andrew Pickens Miller January 1970 – January 1977 Democratic Resigned to run for Governor
Anthony Francis Troy January 1977 – January 1978 Democratic
J. Marshall Coleman January 1978 – January 1982 Republican
Gerald Baliles January 1982 – June 30, 1985 Democratic Resigned to run for Governor
William Broaddus 1985 – 1986 Democratic
Mary Sue Terry 1986 – January 1993 Democratic Resigned to run for Governor
Stephen D. Rosenthal 1993 – 1994 Democratic
Jim Gilmore 1994 – June 11, 1997 Republican Resigned to run for Governor
Richard Cullen June 11, 1997 – January 17, 1998 Republican
Mark Earley January 17, 1998 – June 4, 2001 Republican Resigned to run for Governor
Randolph A. Beales July 11, 2001 – January 12, 2002 Republican
Jerry Kilgore January 12, 2002 – February 1, 2005 Republican Resigned to run for Governor
Judith Jagdmann February 1, 2005 – January 14, 2006 Republican
Bob McDonnell January 14, 2006 – February 20, 2009 Republican Resigned to run for Governor
Bill Mims February 20, 2009 – January 16, 2010 Republican
Ken Cuccinelli January 16, 2010 – January 11, 2014 Republican
Mark Herring January 11, 2014 – present Democratic


  1. "Constitutional and Statutory Provisions For Number of Consecutive Terms of Elected State Officials", National Governors Association. Retrieved on 2008-05-21.
  2. "Constitution of Virginia". Virginia's Legislative Information System. Archived from the original on 6 November 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  3. Robinson, Kelvin (14 July 2009). "Virginia AG Resigns to Focus on Gubernatorial Campaign". NBC4 Washington. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
  4. Walker, Julian (2 December 2011). "Cuccinelli to staff: I am running for Va. governor". Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
  5. "Attorneys General of Virginia". Retrieved 2019-08-30.
  6. Evans, Emory g. "Robert Beverley (bap. 1635–1687)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  7. Tate, Thad W. "Edward Chilton (1658–1707)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  8. Tarter, Brent. "John Clayton (ca. 1666–1737)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  9. Tarter, Brent. "Raleigh Travers Daniel (1805–1877)". Encyclopedia Virginia/Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  10. Tarter, Brent. "Francis Simpson Blair (1839–1899)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  11. Bugg, J. L. "Robert Young Button (1899–1977)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
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