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Celebrating the Women of the Department of Justice
March 15, 2012 Posted by

Mabel Walker Willebrandt

Mabel Walker Willebrandt

The following post appears courtesy of the library staff.

Women have always played a major part in the Department of Justice and have contributed to every aspect of the Department’s operations. March is Women’s History Month and this month we highlight women who have played important roles in Justice Department history. These women, and many others, provide wonderful examples of the exemplary service women have made, and continue to make, to the United States. Their service and dedication has helped secure the safety of our nation.

Mabel Walker Willebrandt (b. May 23, 1889 – d. April 6, 1963) served as Assistant Attorney General from 1921 – 1929

She was appointed by President Harding and was the second woman  to serve in the role of Assistant Attorney General. She was the first to complete an extended term. Prior to accepting the position, Willebrandt served in Los Angeles as the first ever assistant police court defender and headed the Legal Advisory Board for draft cases.

Willebrandt, who was 32 years old when she began her tenure at Justice, headed the division which enforced violations of the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act. The task was not popular, and  Willebrandt did not favor prohibition, but she aggressively upheld the Act throughout the “Roaring Twenties.”

Despite any personal reservations, Willebrandt achieved impressive results. First she advocated changes in federal tactics which included: transferring enforcement from the Treasury to the Department of Justice; prosecuting major suppliers of alcohol rather than speakeasy owners; allocating federal rather than state trial judges; improving training for all law enforcement personnel; and proscribing longer sentences.

Next, her office indicted two of the most lucrative dealers: the Big Four Savannah in 1923 (arguably the largest bootlegging ring in the U.S.) and George Remus, Cincinnati bootlegger. She initiated 48,734 prosecutions from June 1924 – June 1925, a record number that resulted in 39,072 convictions.

Arguing over 40 cases before the Supreme Court, more than most of her contemporaries, Willebrandt won the right to control liquor sales on both American and foreign vessels. She later authored a book, The Inside of Prohibition, which described how political interference, incompetent public officials, and public indifference hampered her work.

This post is the second in a series celebrating the women of the Department of Justice. Read the first post.

Celebrating the Women of the Department of Justice
March 1, 2012 Posted by


Annette Abbott Adams, the first female Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice

Annette Abbott Adams, the first female Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice

The following post appears courtesy of the library staff.

Women have always played a major part in the Department of Justice and have contributed to every aspect of the department’s operations. In recent decades, women have moved from staff positions to positions at the very top of the department. The culmination of this evolution was the appointment of Attorney General Janet Reno who served in the Clinton Administration from 1993-2001.

These changes did not take place overnight. If one were to survey Department of Justice directories prior to 1970, it would be very rare to find women serving at the level of Assistant Attorney General. Starting with the 1970s, this situation changed slowly, and then dramatically in the 1990s.

March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate the month we’ll highlight some of the women who have risen to the top leadership of the Justice Department. These women provide wonderful examples of the exemplary service women of the department have made, and continue to make, to the United States. Their service and dedication has helped secure the safety of our nation and promote justice for all.

Annette Abbott Adams: Assistant Attorney General (1920 – 1921)

Annette Abbott Adams (b. March 27, 1877 – d. October 26, 1956) was the first female Assistant Attorney General. Adams was also the first woman to sit on the California Supreme Court, having been appointed by special assignment for one case.

Adams attended Chico State Normal School and the University of California Berkeley, receiving her Bachelor of Law in 1904. She was the one of the first women to graduate from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall, and was admitted to the California state bar in 1912. Thereafter, she campaigned for Woodrow Wilson in California. After he was elected, she was appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of California from 1914-1919. In 1920 she was appointed the first female Assistant Attorney General of the United States and held the term for one year before resigning in 1921.

Adams’ other achievements included a successful law practice after her appointment; being appointed presiding judge of the California Court of Appeal, 3rd District in Sacramento; and winning election to a twelve-year term on that court. In 1952, Adams retired for health reasons, and passed away in 1956. Adams’ legacy nonetheless broke barriers for women in the legal profession, and established a precedent for women achieving high political office.

Justice Department Asks the Supreme Court to Review the Affordable Care Act
September 28, 2011 Posted by

The Department of Justice filed a cert petition today asking the Supreme Court to review the 2-1 decision of the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit striking down a portion of the Affordable Care Act.   The following statement was released today regarding this action.

“The Department has consistently and successfully defended this law in several court of appeals, and only the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled it unconstitutional. We believe the question is appropriate for review by the Supreme Court.

 “Throughout history, there have been similar challenges to other landmark legislation such as the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and all of those challenges failed.  We believe the challenges to Affordable Care Act — like the one in the 11th Circuit — will also ultimately fail and that the Supreme Court will uphold the law.”

 For more information about the Justice Department’s continued defense of the Affordable Care Act, visit

The Justice Department Celebrates the United States’ Entry into the Open Government Partnership
September 20, 2011 Posted by

President Obama made openness a priority of his Administration, committing to an “unprecedented level of openness in Government” on his first full day in office. 

In the years since that declaration more information has been released under Freedom of Information Act, and made available on government websites, than ever before. The federal government continues to use technology in innovative ways that harness government information to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.

As President Obama today signs the Open Government Partnership declaration, the Justice Department is proud to highlight some of the ways that it has advanced America’s open government agenda and created a more efficient and effective government through greater transparency, participation, and collaboration.

As the “flagship initiative,” of its Open Government Plan, the Justice Department pledged a new “FOIA Dashboard.” The site,, launched earlier this year. It is a comprehensive resource for government-wide FOIA compliance data and educational information. presents data on agency FOIA processing, including the numbers of FOIA requests made and processed by each agency, the disposition of those requests, the time taken to respond, and any backlogs of pending requests.  That data can be compared and contrasted between agencies and over time.  Users can select the criteria they want to examine and then run a report on the site. 

As an educational resource, contains material about how the FOIA works and what to expect during the process, and also provides contact information for all government agencies with links to their FOIA websites. 

The department has also begun posting newly digitized reference materials – including legislative histories and archived speeches of former Attorneys General. These materials were previously available only to department employees. 

The legislative histories track the development and passage of laws that were deemed of interest to the department or in which the department played a vital role.  

In addition, speeches from past  Attorneys General are being digitized and posted online. Dating from 1933 to 2009, many of these documents have never before been widely available. These documents will prove to be a treasure trove to librarians, researchers and anyone else interested in the department’s history and documents.

An open and good government is much more than releasing information.  It is about harnessing the skills and talents of the American people, establishing greater collaboration among Federal agencies, and ensuring that the taxpayer’s money is wisely spent.  To that end, today, the department is recommitting itself to the principles that the President announced on his first day in office and exemplified in our work since then. 

In the upcoming months the Department of Justice plans to convene an Interagency Technology Working Group to focus on expanding the use of technology in the core elements of FOIA administration. 

Agencies across the government have already embraced technology to assist in receipt and tracking of requests and generation of Annual FOIA Reports.   The next step is to improve and streamline administration of the FOIA. Improving this process will allow agencies to respond to requests more quickly and will further reduce backlogs. 

In the coming months, the Office of Information Policy, will seek input from interested stakeholders and lead an effort to transform the administration of the FOIA.

For more information on the Justice Department’s Open Government efforts, visit

Two Affordable Care Act Cases Dismissed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals
September 8, 2011 Posted by

Today, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Commonwealth of Virginia v. Kathleen Sebelius and Liberty University v. Geithner cases challenging the Affordable Care Act.  The Department of Justice issued the following statement: 

 “We welcome the dismissal of these two challenges to the Affordable Care Act.  We also continue to appreciate the rulings of other courts on the merits upholding the constitutionality of the Act. Throughout history, there have been similar challenges to other landmark legislation such as the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and all of those challenges failed as well.  We will continue to vigorously defend the health care reform statute in any litigation challenging it, and we believe we will prevail.”

For more information about the department’s ongoing defense of the Affordable Care Act, visit

Documenting How a Bill Becomes a Law
August 19, 2011 Posted by

Have you ever wondered about the legislative process that led to the creation of the Department of Justice in 1870? Or how Congress changed the law concerning telemarketers in 1998?

A number of digitized legislative histories compiled by the Department of Justice library staff throughout the years on laws of interest to department have now been made available to the public on our website,   These legislative histories are an important roadmap into the development and passage of a law of the United States.

A “legislative history” of a law consists of documents created as a result of the legislative process during a law’s consideration, passage by Congress, and signature by the President. 

 A compiled legislative history assists in organizing the various documents that resulted in the passage of a law. Attorneys and researchers are then able to efficiently search and review the compiled legislative documents to find legal clarifications specific statutory language within the law. 

Most legislative histories may include some, or all, of the following: the U.S. Public Law; House and Senate Documents; House, Senate, and Conference Reports; House and Senate Committee Hearings; Congressional Debates (Congressional Record); related Bills; and Presidential Statements.

Our digitized legislative histories are unique and may be more comprehensive than other legislative histories on the same laws available through other libraries or research databases.

The documents within the legislative histories added to were originally researched, comprehensively collected from Congressional publications, and bound into paper volumes by our librarians.  Until now, these multi-volume histories were made available only to department employees through the Justice Department’s main library collection.

They have been digitized and are now available to the public. We invite you to view them online.

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