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 341350 of 1947

  • Temporary Filling of Vacancies in the Office of United States Attorney

    Two statutes that provide for the temporary filling of vacancies in the office of United States Attorney, 28 U.S.C. § 546 and 5 U.S.C. §§ 3345—3349d, operate independently, and either or both may be used for a particular vacancy. 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/18976/download.

    9/5/2003

  • Authority of Chief Financial Officer Under FY 2003 HUD Appropriations

    Provisions of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act for FY 2003 did not assign all responsibility for appropriations law matters to HUD's Chief Financial Officer to the exclusion of the General Counsel. 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/18971/download.

    8/12/2003

  • Eligibility of Unlegitimated Children for Derivative Citizenship

    An alien child who was born out of wedlock and whose paternity has not been established by legitimation is eligible for derivative citizenship under section 320 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act at the time the child's mother becomes a naturalized citizen. 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/18966/download.

    7/24/2003

  • Interpretation of Section 586 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act

    Existing statutory provisions that prohibit or impose mandatory restrictions on the public release of information are not overridden by section 586 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2003, which requires the President to order federal agencies "to expeditiously declassify and release to the victims' families" information regarding the murders of certain Americans in El Salvador and Guatemala. Provisions that permit but do not require the government to withhold information are, however, overridden by section 586. It is permissible to interpret the scope of the information covered by section 586 to be limited to classified information. 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/18961/download.

    7/18/2003

  • VA's Authority to Fill Certain Prescriptions Written by Non-VA Physicians

    The Department of Veterans Affairs is authorized to fill prescriptions written by non-VA physicians for veterans placed on VA waiting lists. 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/18956/download.

    7/3/2003

  • Designation of Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget

    The President's designation of an employee to act as Director of OMB under the Vacancies Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 3345—3349d, is itself the appointment of an inferior officer and satisfies the Appointments Clause, U.S. Const. art. II, § 2, cl. 2, even if the employee had not earlier been an "Officer of the United States." 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/18951/download.

    6/12/2003

  • Application of 18 U.S.C. § 603 to Contributions to the President's Re-Election Committee

    Civilian executive branch employees do not violate 18 U.S.C. § 603 by contributing to a President's authorized re-election campaign committee. 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/18946/download.

    5/23/2003

  • Authority of the Department of the Interior to Provide Historic Preservation Grants to Historic Religious Properties Such as the Old North Church

    The Establishment Clause does not bar the award of historic preservation grants to the Old North Church or to other active houses of worship that qualify for such assistance, and the section of the National Historic Preservation Act authorizing the provision of historic preservation assistance to religious properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places is constitutional. 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/18941/download.

    4/30/2003

  • Bond Proceeding of Undocumented Aliens Seeking to Enter the United States Illegally

    In determining whether to release on bond undocumented migrants who arrive in the United States by sea seeking to evade inspection, it is appropriate to consider national security interests implicated by the encouragement of further unlawful mass migrations and the release of undocumented alien migrants into the United States without adequate screening. In bond proceedings involving aliens seeking to enter the United States illegally, where the government offers evidence from sources in the Executive Branch with relevant expertise establishing that significant national security interests are implicated, immigration judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals shall consider such interests. Considering national security grounds applicable to a category of aliens in denying an unadmitted alien's request for release on bond does not violate any due process right to an individualized determination in bond proceedings under section 236(a) of the Immigration and Nationality 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/18896/download.

    4/17/2003

  • Scope of the Attorney General's Authority to Assign Duties Under 21 U.S.C. § 878(a)(5)

    Under 21 U.S.C. § 878(a)(5), the Attorney General may authorize the Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate possible violations of federal law, even if those violations do not concern the narcotics laws. 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/18936/download.

    3/24/2003

Related Content