Department of Justice Records (Record Group 60)
Records of the United States Department of Justice are held in Record Group 60: General Records of the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice was established in 1870; however, Record Group 60 also incorporates records of the Department’s predecessor, the Office of the Attorney General.
Among our Department of Justice holdings are correspondence, litigation case files, legal opinions, records of Department officials, and many other series documenting the administration and activities of the Department as it worked to accomplish its mission to enforce the laws of the United States. Below you will find information about major bodies of Department of Justice records and how to access them.
Accessing the Records
Department of Justice textual records are held by the National Archives at College Park in Record Group 60. Researchers interested in these records can send questions to email@example.com.
Records of the Office of the Attorney General (1789-1870) and early Department of Justice records are open and available for research. However, many 20th century records are subject to access restrictions due to personal and sensitive law enforcement information contained in the records.
If you are interested in 20th century Department of Justice records, we strongly encourage you to submit a reference request prior to your visit. In many cases, records are not available for immediate access in our research room.
If the records are restricted, you will need to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to access them. Reference staff will be able to tell you about the access restrictions for specific series and whether you must file a FOIA request.
Special Media and Electronic Records
The National Archives at College Park also holds special media records (photographs, films, audio recordings, and cartographic materials) and electronic records of the Department of Justice. If you are interested in these records, you can contact the following offices:
Prior to the establishment of the Department of Justice in 1870, many of the responsibilities now associated with it were handled by the Office of the Attorney General. The Judiciary Act of 1789 authorized the President to appoint an individual to serve as Attorney General of the United States. The Attorney General was responsible for representing the United States before the Supreme Court and providing legal advice and opinions to the President and the heads of federal departments, and later acquired new responsibilities, including oversight of the appointment process for federal judges and the supervision of U.S. Attorneys and Marshals.
Records available include both letters sent and received by the Attorney General. Incoming correspondence is held in the series Letters Received, 1809 - 1870 (Entry A1 9). These records are arranged by source (President, departments, Congress, and states) and then chronologically for each source.
Letters sent by the Attorney General are held in two series, which are arranged chronologically:
- General and Miscellaneous Letter Books, 1818 - 1913 (Entry A1 10) [fully digitized]
- Letters Sent, 1793 - 1870 (Entry A1 14)
Congress established the Department of Justice on June 22, 1870 with the Attorney General at its head. The Attorney General supervised the U.S. Attorneys and all other law officers of the federal government and was authorized to take direct charge of cases in the lower courts. The establishing act and subsequent laws transferred law officers previously dispersed across other executive departments to the Department of Justice and consolidated various duties related to the administration of justice within the new department.
Records documenting the early operations of the Department of Justice are divided between correspondence received and correspondence sent by the Department.
Letters Received: Source Chronological Files (1871-1884) and Year Files (1884-1903)
The Source Chronological Files and the Year Files contain correspondence received by or referred to the Attorney General from the President, departments, Congress, federal judges, U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals, state officials, and the general public. The correspondence covers various subjects connected with legal matters, as well as administrative topics.
From 1871 to 1884, the Department of Justice maintained incoming correspondence in the Source Chronological Files (Letters Received, 1871 - 1884, Entry A1 56). The files are arranged first by source (President, executive departments, Congress, etc.) and then chronologically for each source.
The Registers of Letters Received in the Source Chronological Files, 1871 - 1884 (Entry A1 55) serve as a finding aid to the correspondence. Letters received by the Department were entered into these registers by date of receipt. The entries note the name or title of the correspondent, the date and subject of their letter, the judicial district it originated in, and the action taken by the Department.
Incoming correspondence from 1884 to 1903 was filed in the Year Files (Entry A1 72). These records are arranged according to a two-part filing system consisting of the year a document was received and the document number.
You can locate documents in the Year Files using the Registers of Letters Received in the Year Files, 1884 - 1903 (Entry A1 59) as well as a variety of other subject-specific indexes.
Letters Sent (1849-1904)
The early Department of Justice records include correspondence sent by the Department to a variety of government officials and private individuals. This correspondence was entered into different letter books, depending on the subject or the recipient of the correspondence.
Among the records included in these letters books are correspondence with the President, executive department officials, and Congress; instructions issued to U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals; correspondence regarding civil suits in federal courts; and correspondence related to expenses.
Many of these letter books are digitized and available in the National Archives Catalog:
- General and Miscellaneous Letter Books, 1870-1913 (Entry A1 76)
- Instruction Books, 1867 - 1904 (Entries A1 12 and A1 77)
- Letters Sent Concerning Judiciary Expenses, 1849 - 1884 (Entry A1 78)
- Executive and Congressional Letter Books, 2/16/1871 - 6/30/1904 (Entry A1 80)
- Letters Sent to Judges and Clerks, 1/2/1874 - 6/30/1904 (Entry A1 87)
The letters in each series are arranged chronologically, and you can locate correspondence with specific individuals by consulting the index at the front of each volume.
The Straight Numerical Files (Entry A1 112) contain both incoming and outgoing correspondence of the Department of Justice. Each case or subject was given a consecutive number when the first papers on it were filed with no distinction as to class, nature, or subject.
These records comprise a substantial portion of the Department of Justice general files created and maintained from 1904 to 1937, and from 1904 to 1912, these were the only central files. Although the Department began to phase out the Straight Numerical Files after 1914, some file numbers remained in use until much later.
You can locate files on specific individuals and organizations using the General Index to Litigation Case Files, 1904 - 1951. We also hold many other indexes to the Straight Numerical Files that can assist you with finding records on your topic.
The litigation case files (also referred to as the classification case files or the duplex numeric files) are the primary Department of Justice files from 1914 to the present.
These records document the activities of the Department's headquarters legal components in handling litigation involving the federal government. They cover topics ranging from antitrust violations to civil and voting rights to environmental laws to Prohibition to organized crime. Although litigation (or potential litigation) is the primary focus of the records, the case files also document other transactions handled by the Department, including administrative matters, rendering formal legal opinions, examining titles to land acquired by the federal government, and registering foreign agents.
Department of Justice case files often include correspondence, memoranda, legal briefs, and investigative reports.
Litigation case files are arranged by a numerical filing system and each file is assigned a case number (for example, 144-40-254) containing the following components:
Classification: This number indicates the type of case and typically represents a federal law, legal subject, or administrative topic. For example, Class 144 relates to civil rights cases. You can see which classifications have been accessioned by the National Archives here.
Judicial district number or subclass number: This indicates the judicial district where the case arose or a further topical subdivision of the classification.
Case number: This is a sequential number assigned to each case.
In order to locate case files on a particular individual, organization or subject, you need to use one of the many indexes available for the litigation case files. The General Index to Litigation Case Files, 1904 - 1951 (Entry A1 110) and the Subject Index to Various Central Classified Files, 1979 - 1981 (Entry A1 1001) are open and available to researchers.
We also hold divisional indexes created and maintained by various Department of Justice legal divisions. Some divisional indexes are subject to access restrictions and must be searched by National Archives staff.
The National Archives’ Department of Justice holdings include records of senior officials, such as the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, Associate Attorney General, and their deputies and staff.
The National Archives at College Park holds records for the following Attorneys General:
- Edward Levi (1975-1977)
- Griffin Bell (1977-1979)
- Benjamin Civiletti (1979-1981)
- William French Smith (1981-1985)
- Edwin Meese (1985-1988)
- Richard Thornburgh (1988-1991)
- William P. Barr (1991-1993)
- Janet Reno (1993-2001)
Since records of senior officials are dispersed across many different series, the easiest way to locate files for any official is to search the National Archives Catalog.
Records created by Attorneys General and other senior officials prior to Edward Levi are not held in distinct series of office files. Copies of some of these officials’ correspondence may be interfiled in the Department of Justice litigation case files.
You can locate records of specific officials in these files using the Record Slips, 1910 - 1970 (Entry A1 96). Record slips consist of index cards which were used to record Department of Justice correspondence and include the name of the sender and the case file number where the correspondence was filed.
Additionally, prior to the tenure of Edward Levi, Attorneys General and other senior officials would often take their papers with them when they left office. In many cases, they donated these collections to private institutions or to the Presidential Library of the President they served under.
The Attorney General and the Department of Justice are responsible for providing legal opinions and advice to the President and the executive departments as well as occasionally to Congress. The National Archives holds legal opinions of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice dating back to the 1790s.
You can find opinions and other legal guidance provided by the Department in several series, depending on the time period:
- Opinions on Legal Questions, 1790 - 1882 (Entry A1 1)
- Opinion Books, 1817 - 1870 (Entry A1 2)
- Opinion Books, 1870 - 1934 (Entry A1 50)
- Class 19 (Opinions of the Attorney General) Litigation Case Files and Enclosures, 1919 - 1973 (Entry A1-COR 19)
- Form and Legality Memoranda, 3/1/1934 - 12/31/1995 (Entry UD-11D 4)
- Form and Legality Memoranda, 1/1/1996 - 12/31/2002 (Entry UD-18W 4)
Select Department of Justice opinions from 1934 to the present are also available online through the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel.