The OLC
Astrid Da Silva

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). The Knight Institute has also begun publishing opinions it received under the settlement, including two opinions discussing the release of the Pentagon Papers and nearly two dozen opinions addressing the government’s response to the civil rights movement. 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 1120 of 1975

  • Annotated index of 1989 unclassified OLC legal opinions

    The OLC disclosed a preliminary index of all unclassified OLC legal opinions issued in 1989 to the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. This version of the index (annotated by Institute staff) shows which opinions are already publicly available (blue).

    1/28/2022

  • Effect of 2020 OLC Opinion on Possible Congressional Action Regarding Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment

    A 2020 opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel that addressed the legal status of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment is not an obstacle either to Congress's ability to act with respect to ratification of the ERA or to judicial consideration of questions regarding the constitutional status of the ERA. The original opinion is available at www.justice.gov/olc/file/1466036/download.

    1/26/2022

  • Discretion to Continue the Home-Confinement Placements of Federal Prisoners After the COVID-19 Emergency

    This Office concluded in January 2021 that, when the COVID-19 emergency ends, the Bureau of Prisons will be required to recall all prisoners placed in extended home confinement under section 12003(b)(2) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act who are not otherwise eligible for home confinement under 18 U.S.C. § 624(c)(2). Having been asked to reconsider, we now conclude that section 12003(b)(2) and the Bureau's preexisting authorities are better read to give the Bureau discretion to permit prisoners in extended home confinement to remain there. 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/olc/file/1457926/download.

    12/21/2021

  • Reappointment of a Member of the National Credit Union Administration Board

    A member of the National Credit Union Administration Board initially appointed to a partial term is eligible for reappointment under 12 U.S.C. § 1752a(c) regardless of whether the member's first appointment was for the remainder of a term that became vacant mid-term or that had no prior appointee. 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/olc/file/1456541/download.

    12/10/2021

  • Annotated index of 1973 unclassified OLC legal opinions

    The OLC disclosed a preliminary index of all unclassified OLC legal opinions issued in 1973 to the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. This version of the index (annotated by Institute staff) shows which opinions are already publicly available (blue).

    10/18/2021

  • Annotated index of 1976 unclassified OLC legal opinions

    The OLC disclosed a preliminary index of all unclassified OLC legal opinions issued in 1976 to the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. This version of the index (annotated by Institute staff) shows which opinions are already publicly available (blue).

    10/18/2021

  • Annotated index of 1975 unclassified OLC legal opinions

    The OLC disclosed a preliminary index of all unclassified OLC legal opinions issued in 1975 to the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. This version of the index (annotated by Institute staff) shows which opinions are already publicly available (blue).

    10/18/2021

  • Annotated index of 1979 unclassified OLC legal opinions

    The OLC disclosed a preliminary index of all unclassified OLC legal opinions issued in 1979 to the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. This version of the index (annotated by Institute staff) shows which opinions are already publicly available (blue).

    10/18/2021

  • Annotated index of 1980 unclassified OLC legal opinions

    The OLC disclosed a preliminary index of all unclassified OLC legal opinions issued in 1980 to the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. This version of the index (annotated by Institute staff) shows which opinions are already publicly available (blue).

    10/18/2021

  • Annotated index of 1978 unclassified OLC legal opinions

    The OLC disclosed a preliminary index of all unclassified OLC legal opinions issued in 1978 to the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. This version of the index (annotated by Institute staff) shows which opinions are already publicly available (blue).

    10/18/2021

Related Content