Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Griffin Bell (1977–1979): Attorney General

Griffin Boyette Bell was born in Americus, Georgia, in 1918, and graduated cum laude from Mercer University Law School in 1948. He practiced law in both Savannah and Rome, Georgia, before moving to Atlanta.

Bell was a partner in the Atlanta law firm King & Spalding from 1953 to 1961 and was then appointed by President John F. Kennedy to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1961, serving until 1976, where he ruled moderately on a number of school desegregation cases.

Bell served as attorney general under President Carter from 1977 to 1979. He did not seek the position but served as a favor to Carter, a close friend. After his term in the cabinet, Bell served on the secretary of state's advisory committee on South Africa (1985-1987).

In 1989, he became vice chairman of President George H.W. Bush's Commission on Federal Ethics Law Reform; he was also counsel to President Bush during the Iran-Contra investigation. Bell also continued practicing law in Atlanta with King & Spalding.