A FOIA lawsuit seeking proactive disclosure of the Office of Legal Counsel’s secret legal opinions
The Knight Institute represents the Campaign for Accountability in a FOIA lawsuit challenging the Office of Legal Counsel’s failure to affirmatively disclose its “formal written opinions.”
The Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC, is a component of the Department of Justice that issues legal opinions that bind federal agencies on matters of significant public concern. These opinions are the authoritative law of the government on subjects ranging from warrantless surveillance, to the torture of detainees, to retirement benefits for federal employees. Although these opinions often implicate questions of overwhelming public concern, the OLC has published only a fraction of them.
The lawsuit argues that this practice violates FOIA’s “reading-room provision,” which obligates agencies to proactively disclose opinions or interpretations that have the force or effect of law.
Agencies Involved: Department of Justice (Office of Legal Counsel)
Status: On September 11, 2020, the district court granted in part and denied in part the government's renewed motion to dismiss, holding that OLC opinions resolving interagency disputes plausibly fall within FOIA's reading-room provision.
Case Information: Campaign for Accountability v. DOJ, No. 1:16-cv-01068-KBJ (D.D.C.).