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.

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  • Mechanisms for Funding Intelligence Centers

    Agencies may use the Economy Act to pay for facilities and services provided by the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and the Terrorist Screening Center. It is within the reasonable discretion of fiscal officers to compute the "actual cost" to be charged for those facilities and services. 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/21401/download.

    3/19/2004

  • "Protected Person" Status in Occupied Iraq Under the Fourth Geneva Convention

    The Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (IV) governs the United States occupation of Iraq. The following persons, if captured in occupied Iraq, are not "protected persons" within the meaning of article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: U.S. nationals, nationals of a State not bound by the Convention, nationals of a co-belligerent State, and operatives of the al Qaeda terrorist organization who are not Iraqi nationals or permanent residents of Iraq. 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/18871/download.

    3/18/2004

  • Deployment of United States Armed Forces to Haiti

    The President has authority to order the deployment of the armed forces to Haiti in order to protect American citizens there. The deployment is consistent with the War Powers Resolution. 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/18876/download.

    3/17/2004

  • Apportionment of False Claims Act Recoveries to Agencies

    Whether an agency's revolving fund is entitled to receive from a False Claims Act recovery (in addition to single damages equal to the actual amount of the payment made as a result of the false claim) pre-judgment or pre-settlement interest on that payment and investigative and administrative costs attributable to the false claim depends on whether the fund is authorized to borrow money at interest, earn interest on its own investments, and pay its own investigative and administrative expenses. 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/18886/download.

    3/12/2004

  • Liability of Contractors in Airbridge Denial Programs

    A contractor ordinarily will not be criminally liable for assisting in certain foreign government programs for the aerial interdiction of illegal narcotics traffic. 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/18881/download.

    3/1/2004

  • Status of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission

    The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission is subject to the Attorney General's direction in administrative matters, except where that direction would interfere with the Commission's independence in adjudicating claims. 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/18891/download.

    2/20/2004

  • Assertion of Constitutionally Based Privilege Over Reagan Administration Records

    It is legally permissible for President Bush to assert constitutionally based privilege in concurrence with former President Reagan's assertion of constitutionally based privilege over certain Reagan Administration documents that are otherwise required to be released by the National Archives and Records Administration under the Presidential Records Act. 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/18996/download.

    1/12/2004

  • Compliance of Direct Recording Electronic Voting Systems With Help America Vote Act and Americans With Disabilities Act

    A direct recording electronic voting system that produces a contemporaneous paper record, which is not accessible to sight-impaired voters but which allows sighted voters to confirm that their ballots accurately reflect their choices before the system officially records their votes, would be consistent with the Help America Vote Act and with title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so long as the voting system provides a similar opportunity for sight-impaired voters to verify their ballots before those ballots are finally cast. 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/18991/download.

    10/10/2003

  • Holdover and Removal of Members of Amtrak's Reform Board

    A member of Amtrak's Reform Board whose statutory term has expired may not hold over in office until a successor is appointed. The President may remove a member of the Amtrak Reform Board without cause. 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/18986/download.

    9/22/2003

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Actions Against Public Employers to Enforce Settlement or Conciliation Agreements

    The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lacks the authority to initiate an action in federal court against a public employer to enforce a settlement or conciliation agreement negotiated by the EEOC during its administrative process. 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/18981/download.

    9/8/2003

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