The OLC

The OLC's Opinions

Opinions published by the OLC, including those released in response to our FOIA lawsuit

This Reading Room is the most comprehensive public database of opinions written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). It contains the approximately 1,400 opinions published by the OLC in its online database and the opinions produced to date in Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by the Knight Institute.

The OLC is the component of the Department of Justice that issues legal opinions that bind executive branch officials on matters of significant public concern. Though its opinions are crucial to understanding the law as our government interprets it, the OLC does not publish its opinions as a matter of course. Instead, based on discretionary criteria, it publishes only a small subset in its online reading room.

The Knight Institute has challenged the secrecy of the OLC’s opinions in several cases. In Campaign for Accountability v. DOJ, the Institute has argued that FOIA requires the OLC to publish its legal opinions proactively, even in the absence of any FOIA request seeking their release. And in Francis v. DOJ, the Institute enforced a request under FOIA for all formal written opinions issued by the OLC prior to February 15, 1994. That request took advantage of a 2016 amendment to FOIA imposing an expiration date on the “deliberative process privilege,” which the OLC often relies upon to shield its opinions from FOIA.

In Francis, the OLC produced approximately 350 opinions from the years 1965, 1969, 1974, and 1981, which can be found in the database below, before agreeing to a settlement that committed it to producing (1) indexes of all unclassified OLC opinions written from 1945 to February 15, 1994; (2) 230 additional opinions selected from those years; and (3) an index of classified OLC opinions written from 1964 to February 15, 1994. This reading room has already been updated with unclassified opinion indexes (which are also available as a comprehensive list here and in .csv format here). Additionally, the Knight Institute has published two opinions received under the settlement discussing the release of the Pentagon Papers. The Institute will continue updating the reading room with new records from the OLC over the summer.

To get alerts when the OLC publishes a new opinion in its database, follow @OLCforthepeople on Twitter.

Showing 19411947 of 1947

  • Authority of the Federal Communications Commission to Deny a Broadcast License to a Newspaper Owner

    The Federal Communications Commission does not have authority under the Communications Act of 1934 to refuse to grant broadcasting licenses on the ground that the ownership of the proposed facilities is in, or in common with, a newspaper. It is doubtful that Congress has the power to broaden the Act to provide the FCC with such authority. Such a provision would not violate the First Amendment clauses protecting the freedom of speech and of the press, but it would probably be held arbitrary and violative of the Fifth Amendment. The OLC does not provide release dates for its opinions, so the release date listed is the date on which the opinion was authored. The original opinion is available at www.justice.gov/file/19186/download.

    1/6/1937

  • Filling the Vacancy Following the Death of the Secretary of War

    The performance of the duties of the Secretary of War by an acting secretary may not extend beyond thirty days from the date of the death of the late Secretary of War, and it will be necessary for a new Secretary of War to be appointed in accordance with the provisions of the Appointments Clause of the Constitution to perform those duties after that date. There is some doubt whether the duties specifically imposed by Congress upon the Secretary of War may be performed by the President, as Commander in Chief of the Army, or by any other person not serving as the Secretary of War. The OLC does not provide release dates for its opinions, so the release date listed is the date on which the opinion was authored. The original opinion is available at www.justice.gov/file/20651/download.

    9/21/1936

  • Removal of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce by the Appointment of a Successor

    The removal from office of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce can be properly effected merely by the appointment of a successor by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The OLC does not provide release dates for its opinions, so the release date listed is the date on which the opinion was authored. The original opinion is available at www.justice.gov/file/20646/download.

    6/10/1935

  • Legality of an Executive Order Requiring Executive Departments and Independent Establishments to Make Monthly Financial Reports

    Although the regulations prescribed by the proposed executive order, requiring executive departments and independent establishments to provide the Secretary of the Treasury with monthly financial reports, are not expressly authorized by any statute, the President has authority to issue the order by virtue of his inherent power as Chief Executive. The OLC does not provide release dates for its opinions, so the release date listed is the date on which the opinion was authored. The original opinion is available at www.justice.gov/file/19181/download.

    9/25/1934

  • Exercising the Pocket Veto

    When the President wishes to disapprove a bill, and Congress's adjournment has prevented the President's return of the bill, the safer course for the President to exercise his power of disapproval is through a pocket veto, instead of endorsing the bill with the word "disapproved" and the President's signature. The OLC does not provide release dates for its opinions, so the release date listed is the date on which the opinion was authored. The original opinion is available at www.justice.gov/file/20641/download.

    6/26/1934

  • Constitutionality of Legislation to Confer Citizenship Upon Albert Einstein

    Congress has the authority to enact a law granting citizenship to Albert Einstein. The OLC does not provide release dates for its opinions, so the release date listed is the date on which the opinion was authored. The original opinion is available at www.justice.gov/file/19176/download.

    4/9/1934

  • Whether a Three-Day Recess by One Chamber of Congress Constitutes an Adjournment for Purposes of the Pocket Veto Clause

    It is doubtful that a three-day recess by the Senate, with the House continuing in session, constitutes an adjournment by Congress that would "prevent [the] Return" of a bill that has been presented to the President under the Pocket Veto Clause of the Constitution. The OLC does not provide release dates for its opinions, so the release date listed is the date on which the opinion was authored. The original opinion is available at www.justice.gov/file/20636/download.

    3/16/1934

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