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 approximately 350 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 the database below, you can browse and search the OLC’s opinions, including those released in our Francis litigation. You will also find dozens of indexes containing the titles and dates of the OLC’s unclassified opinions. As part of our settlement in Francis, the OLC will produce indexes of unclassified opinions for all years between 1945 and February 15, 1994. An index of all opinion titles produced so far is available here. You can download the index in .csv format here. And here’s how you can help us determine which additional OLC opinions we should ask the OLC to release.

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

Showing 351360 of 1945

  • Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States

    This opinion, colloquially known as one of the "torture memos" and subsequently rescinded, considers whether military interrogation of alien "enemy combatants" is legal under domestic and international law. It concludes that neither the Fifth and Eighth Amendments or federal criminal laws apply to such military interrogations; in the unlikely case of criminal proseuction against the U.S. government, necessity or self-defense could provide justification for any criminal liability. Finally, the opinion finds that under customary international law and the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the U.S. government is only obliged to follow its domestic standards against torture and cruel punishment. 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 https://justice.gov/olc/docs/memo-combatantsoutsideunitedstates.pdf.

    3/14/2003

  • NLRB Quorum Requirements

    The National Labor Relations Board may issue decisions even when only two of its five seats are filled, if the Board, at a time when it has at least three members, delegates all its powers to a three-member group and the two remaining members are part of this group and both participate in the decisions. 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/18931/download.

    3/4/2003

  • Limitations on the Detention Authority of the Immigration and Naturalization Service

    The Immigration and Nationality Act by its terms grants the Attorney General a full 90 days to effect an alien's removal after the alien is ordered removed under section 241(a) of the Act, and it imposes no duty on the Attorney General to act as quickly as possible, or with any particular degree of dispatch, within the 90-day period. This reading of the Act raises no constitutional infirmity. It is permissible for the Attorney General to take more than the 90-day removal period to remove an alien even when it would be within the Attorney General's power to effect the removal within 90 days. The Attorney General can take such action, however, only when the delay in removal is related to effectuating the immigration laws and the nation's immigration policies. Among other things, delays in removal that are attributable to investigating whether and to what extent an alien has terrorist connections satisfy this standard. An obligation to act with "reasonable dispatch" will attach at some point after the expiration of the 90-day removal period. 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/18926/download.

    2/20/2003

  • Response to the Preliminary Report of the ABA Task Force on Treatment of Enemy Combatants

    This report is written in response to the creation of the Task Force on Treatment of Enemy Combatants (“Task Force”) by the American Bar Association. The report provides the Department of Defense (DOD) with various legal arguments to counter the issues the Task Force was raising. The legal arguments include: the President has constitutional authority to detain enemy combatants, regardless of their citizenship, in time of war; enemy combatants have no right to counsel under either the Sixth Amendment or Geneva Conventions. The report suggest that the DOD, through these arguments, disqualify the Task Force's concerns as based on policy considerations, and not on legal objections. 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 https://justice.gov/olc/docs/memo-aba-taskforce.pdf.

    2/7/2003

  • Department of Transportation Authority to Exempt Canadian Truck Drivers From Criminal Liability for Transporting Explosives

    The Department of Transportation possesses the authority to issue a regulation that, under section 845(a)(1) of title 18, would exempt Canadian truck drivers from criminal liability under section 842(i) of that title. The Department of Transportation, however, has not issued such a regulation, and therefore section 842(i) liability would attach to a Canadian truck driver transporting explosives in 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/18916/download.

    2/6/2003

  • Appointment of Member of Holocaust Memorial Council

    The process of appointing an individual as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council was not completed. Even if the process of appointing a member of the Council had been completed, the President's appointment of another individual to that same position effected a removal of that 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/file/18921/download.

    2/6/2003

  • Whether Canteen Service Provided Through the Veterans' Canteen Service Is Exempt From Review Under the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act of 1998

    Canteen service provided through the Veterans' Canteen Service is not exempt from review under the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act of 1998. 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/18911/download.

    1/31/2003

  • Presidential Authority to Protect National Security Information

    This opinion considers whether the president has the constitutional authority to withhold sensitive national security information from Congress involving the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by other nations. The opinion concludes that 22 U.S.C. § 3282, which creates reporting requirements for proliferation information, would not demand Congressional notification if the president determines that disclosure of the information could harm national security. 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 https://justice.gov/olc/page/file/936261/download.

    1/27/2003

  • Authority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to Impose Monetary Sanctions Against Federal Agencies for Failure to Comply With Orders Issued by EEOC Administrative Judges

    The doctrine of sovereign immunity precludes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from imposing monetary sanctions against federal agencies for violations of orders of EEOC administrative judges. 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/18906/download.

    1/6/2003

  • Funding for Technical Assistance for Agricultural Conservation Programs

    Funding for technical assistance for the agricultural conservation programs listed in amended section 1241(a) of the Food Security Act of 1985 is subject to the "section 11 cap" on transfer of Commodity Credit Corporation funds. The Secretary of Agriculture may draw on the Department of Agriculture's appropriation for Conservation Operations to fund technical assistance for these programs. 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/18901/download.

    1/3/2003

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