A FOIA lawsuit seeking disclosure of Office of Legal Counsel opinions issued over 25 years ago
On August 21, 2019, the Knight Institute filed a FOIA lawsuit on behalf of five scholars, the Campaign for Accountability, and itself, challenging the Office of Legal Counsel’s failure to comply with their request for “formal written opinions” issued by the agency over 25 years ago.
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, most OLC opinions are secret.
In the past, the OLC has avoided complying with FOIA requests for its opinions by invoking a privilege that protects government deliberations. In 2016, Congress amended FOIA to eliminate that privilege for records over 25 years old. This lawsuit takes advantage of that amendment.
In a separate lawsuit, the Knight Institute is arguing that FOIA requires the OLC to proactively publish its formal written opinions.
Agencies Involved: Department of Justice (Office of Legal Counsel)
Status: Settled on August 13, 2021.
Case Information: Francis v. DOJ, No. 2:19-cv-1317 (W.D. Wash.).