On June 17, 2016 it became a little bit easier to get tickets to “Hamilton”—and you have New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to thank in part for that. When New York State passed a law that strengthened restrictions against automated ticket-buying software, therefore opening up the number of tickets—to “Hamilton” or any other show, sporting event, or concert—available to everyday consumers, it wasn’t just because New York politicians wanted tickets to the hottest Broadway show in town. They were taking action in the wake of a report issued by AG Schneiderman that detailed how “ticket bots” are harming New York State consumers.
Why is New York State’s top lawyer interfering with Broadway ticket sales? The state attorney general’s office handles consumer protections, investigating and prosecuting businesses and individuals who engage in fraudulent, misleading, deceptive, or illegal business practices. In New York, it was ticket scammers. Elsewhere, attorneys general (AGs) were bridging a settlement to get money back to consumers from Volkswagen after news broke that some of their vehicles were cheating emissions tests and with Apple after the tech company was accused of using a price-fixing scheme to inflate e-book prices, among the hundreds of other cases brought to offices of attorneys general around the country.
It’s clear that AGs keep busy: in addition to consumer protections, they also oversee antitrust policy, civil rights issues, environmental protections, labor laws, and more, as well acting as the chief legal officer for their state and its residents. These officials have many responsibilities that affect the day-to-day lives of every American, but they often get little attention compared to governors and members of Congress, even though they often are elected on the same ballot.
State attorneys general are elected by popular vote in 43 states and the District of Columbia (In Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Wyoming, the governor appoints the AG. In Maine, the state legislature votes on AG candidates and Tennessee uses their state Supreme Court). That means it’s mainly up to the voters to decide who will represent their state in consumer, civil, and legal rights cases.
Attorneys general affect state policy just like any other elected official. For voters interested in reforming the criminal justice system and stopping police violence, your AG can play an important but often under-looked role in prosecuting police violence and reforming the systems that allow it to happen. California Attorney General Kamala Harris, for instance, instituted a 21st Century Policing Working Group and a Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board to assist state and local law enforcement in developing best practices and building trust within communities.
If your passion lies in gun violence prevention, ask your state officials for action like that seen out of the Massachusetts attorney general’s office—AG Maura Healey is cracking down on the enforcement of her state’s assault weapons ban. If you’re angry about the rush of anti-LGBTQ legislation sweeping the country, make sure you’re electing an AG like North Carolina’s Roy Cooper, who is refusing to go to court to uphold his state’s HB2 bill that would force transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth.
Attorneys general also have the power to take down fraudulent for-profit colleges like Corinthian Colleges and similar pseudo-educational scams like Trump University that take advantage of consumers simply looking for an education. Earlier this year, a group of state attorneys general announced they were launching an investigation into four of the biggest for-profit college companies. A similar group announced a few months later that they are calling on the U.S. Department of Education to look into the accreditation of for-profits schools, as well as the company that gave out the accreditations. If you’re looking to reform the higher education system, your state AG’s office might be a good place to start.
When it comes to actions taken by attorneys general every day, the list goes on — they’re even looking out for Pokémon Go fans. So when heading to the polls this November, make sure you’re up to date on how your AG is doing business and who is on the ballot. The “people’s lawyer” has a bigger impact on your life than you might have ever guessed.