During Nevada’s territorial period the office of Attorney General (AG) was a position appointed by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Benjamin B. Bunker, the first territorial Attorney General, was appointed in 1861 but resigned the next year. Theodore D. Edwards served from 1862 until statehood in 1864. Both territorial Attorney Generals were allowed to augment their territorial salaries with service as private counsels. Bunker’s private law firm once represented the state in prosecuting individuals and Edwards served as Ormsby County District Attorney at the same time he was Attorney General. These practices were prohibited by the 1864 state constitution.
Article 5 of the Nevada State Constitution provided for the popular election of the AG to a four-year term but was otherwise vague on the duties of this office. The 1867 Legislature passed the first comprehensive legislation on this office and its powers. The AG was required to live and practice in Carson City and attend to the following duties:
The Nevada Legislature removed the residency requirement in the 1977 session by amending NRS 228.040 which pertained to the geographic site of the AG's office and residence.
From the earliest days of statehood, the Attorney General was a member or ex-officio member of numerous state boards and commissions, some of which were powerful and some of which were enabled for only a short time. They included the Board of Examiners; Board of Pardons (later Parole and Pardons); Board of Directors of the State Library; Board of State Prison Commissioners; Commission of Industry, Agriculture, and Irrigation; Board of Railroad Commissioners; Board of Revenue; Board to Investigate State Police; and Board of Mineral Land Commissioners.
Until 1908 the Attorney General was the only state official dealing with legal issues. In that year the AG was authorized to appoint deputies to perform the duties of his office. 1908 was also the year in which the AG was given a very significant charge: to commence suits or take such action as might be necessary to maintain a regular or natural flow of water in the Truckee River.
The Attorney General’s office possesses a set of powers appropriate to all three branches of government: executive, judicial, and legislative. The AG acts in many ways as a public administrator and as such, the style and personal inclinations of an AG may lead to an emphasis on particular types of office activities. These inclinations may place the office on the fringe or at the center of important policy determinations – for example, control of water and power resources, nuclear testing, divorce, gaming, prostitution, control of federal lands, and organized crime. This trend became stronger in the 20th century.
Compiled Laws of the State of Nevada. Various publishers: 1864, 1873, 1883, 1900, 1912, 1965.
Political History of Nevada, 1996, 10th ed. Issued by Dean Heller, Secretary of State of Nevada. Carson City, Nev.: 1997.
Statutes of Nevada Passed at the Fifty-ninth Session of the Legislature, 1977. Vol. 2.
Thompson, William N. “The Office of the Attorney General of Nevada in the Nineteenth Century,” Nevada Historical Society Quarterly 26 no. 4 (1983): 272-297; and 27 no. 1 (1984): 13-33.