Washington, Patton, Schwarzkopf, and . . . Ashcroft?
Constitutional Commentary, vol. 19, page 663 (2002)
21 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2003 Last revised: 26 Jun 2017
Date Written: October 1, 2002
In the Supreme Court, the halls of Congress, and elsewhere, the Attorney General and the Solicitor General are often addressed as "General," as if they were officers in the Army. This Essay speculates about the explanation for this peculiar practice and argues that it should be abandoned. In part, this usage should be abandoned because it is flatly incorrect by the standards of history, grammar, lexicology and protocol. Of course, those standards are mutable; if everyone called John Ashcroft the same thing they call George Patton, then at some point doing so would be correct by the standards of history, grammar, lexicology and protocol. But I also make a normative argument. Comfortable though it may be, especially since September 11, to have generals in charge, ours is a government of laws, not generalissimos. To call civil officials, especially legal ones, "general" because that word appears in their title is both wrong, if not just plain silly, and conflicts with important values.
Keywords: Attorney General, Solicitor General, official titles, militarism, rule of law
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