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The OLC's Opinions

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

This Reading Room is a comprehensive database of published 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 in Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by the Knight Institute, including opinions about the Pentagon Papers, the Civil Rights Era, and the War Powers Act. It also contains indexes of unclassified OLC opinions written between 1945 and February 15, 1994 (these indexes were created by the OLC and intended to be comprehensive). We have compiled those indexes into a single list here and in .csv format here. This Reading Room also contains an index of all classified OLC opinions issued between 1974 and 2021, except those classified or codeword-classified at a level higher than Top Secret (the OLC created this index, too, and intended it to be comprehensive).

The Knight Institute will continue updating the reading room with new records. To get alerts when the OLC publishes a new opinion in its database, follow @OLCforthepeople on Twitter.

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  • Access to Classified Information for Scholarly Research

    The OLC was asked to clarify advice given by the attorney general to the State Department that analyzed classification practices under Executive Order 10501 as it pertained to the disclosure of classified defense information for scholarly research. The attorney general’s memorandum had concluded that the Executive Order did not preclude access by government outsiders, including scholars, but explained that access could only be granted “upon the basis of a finding that such access would be in the interest of promoting national defense.” The OLC concluded that the State Department misconstrued prior advice to mean that classified information should be released whenever it is in the public welfare to do so, rather than when it is in the interest of promoting national defense. The OLC reiterated that nothing in the Executive Order could be interpreted as authorizing access to classified information by scholars whose projects do not have a direct relationship to defense.


  • Scope and Effect of Jencks Decision

    The OLC summarized the scope of the decision in Jencks v. United States, calling the result "highly unfortunate." The opinion also answered several questions posed by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, including “whether the rule applie[d] to all government witnesses, not merely informants.” The OLC concluded that it did, given that “the opinion clearly says so.” The OLC also provided several recommendations on how the FBI and the Justice Department should alter its document production practices in light of Jencks.


  • Admission of Hungarian Refugees


  • Designation of White Citizens Councils

    This opinion considered whether the attorney general had authority to designate White Citizens Councils as a “totalitarian, fascist, communist or subversive” group under Executive Order 9835. The opinion described the “deep and aggressive hostility to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments” expressed by members of White Citizens Councils, but conveyed concerns about “labeling as subversive, and classing with Communists and Fascists, so large and otherwise loyal a group of individuals as compose the membership of the Citizens Councils.”


  • Presidential succession


  • Opinion of the Attorney General of Kentucky on Racial Integration of its Public Schools

    The memo analyzed the exclusion of Black students in two segregated Kentucky schools with the support of the state attorney general on the purported basis that enrollment was “illegal” until the local school boards created a formal integration plan. The OLC’s memo acknowledged that the primary responsibility for integration laid with local school boards, but noted that the school boards had adopted no plan for integration whatsoever, and that the opinion supporting the exclusion of the students was likely rooted in political opposition to integration.


  • Constitutionality of Pending Bills Restricting the Withdrawal of Public Land for National Defense

    Pursuant to his constitutional powers as Commander in Chief, the President, particularly in time of war or national emergency, may have authority without the authorization of Congress to reserve and use public lands for the training and deployment of the armed forces of the United States for national defense purposes. If the above is true, any attempted restriction of this authority by Congress would be an unconstitutional invasion of the President's authority as Commander in Chief. 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


  • Dissemination of information made available to the Commission on Government Security


  • Presidential proclamation for use of federal troops in civil disturbances


  • Assertion of Executive Privilege by the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission

    Questions put to the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission regarding conversations he may have had with the President or his assistants in the White House come within the scope of the executive privilege, whereby information, papers, and communications which the President or the heads of the executive departments or agencies deem confidential in the public interest need not be disclosed to a congressional committee. In addition, the questions are within the scope of the President's letter of May 17, 1954 to the Secretary of Defense setting forth the Administration's policy that, in the public interest, advisement on official matters between employees of the Executive Branch of the government be kept confidential, and any conversations, communications, documents or reproductions concerning such advisement not be disclosed in congressional hearings. Even if it were conceded only for the purpose of argument that the Atomic Energy Commission is a typical independent regulatory commission, which is not in one branch of the government to the exclusion of others but straddles at least two branches so as to be part of each, there is historical precedent indicating that, as to the executive functions of such a commission, its officers and employees have a right, and, when directed by the President, a duty to invoke the executive privilege. The so-called fraud exception to executive privilege does not exist. The precedent for the so-called exception really evidences the unlimited discretion of the President to determine whether the public interest requires that the executive privilege be invoked or waived in a particular case. 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


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