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 371380 of 1945

  • Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002

    This opinion memorializes advice the OLC provided on the constitutionality of H. J. Res. 114, which authorized the president to use military force against Iraq. The opinion expresses the view that the bill is constitutional but unnecessary, since the president already possesses the authority to direct the use of military force as commander in chief, and Congress has previously authorized the use of force against Iraq during the Gulf War. The opinion suggests that the president make clear in a signing statement that the resolution should not be regarded as legally necessary. 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-military-force-iraq.pdf.

    10/21/2002

  • Authority of FEMA to Provide Disaster Assistance to Seattle Hebrew Academy

    The Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1974 and its implementing regulations permit the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide federal disaster assistance for the reconstruction of Seattle Hebrew Academy, a private religious school that was damaged in an earthquake in 2001. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not pose a barrier to the Academy's receipt of such aid. 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/623861/download.

    9/25/2002

  • Relationship Between Section 203(d) of the Patriot Act and the Mandatory Disclosure Provision of Section 905(a) of the Patriot Act

    The sweeping authority to share information set forth in section 203(d) of the Patriot Act has a significant impact on the scope of the mandatory information-sharing obligation set forth in section 905(a) of the Patriot Act. Section 905(a) requires disclosure of foreign intelligence to the Director of Central Intelligence unless disclosure is otherwise prohibited by law. Because of the sweep of section 203(d), however, it is always lawful to disclose information that comes under that section in order to assist a federal official in the performance of his official duties. As a result, the preemptive effect of section 203(d) on all other non-disclosure provisions means that, absent an exception provided for by the Attorney General, foreign intelligence that would assist the Director of Central Intelligence in the performance of his official duties must be disclosed pursuant to section 905(a) because no other applicable law can be said to provide otherwise. 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/20616/download.

    9/17/2002

  • Application of 44 U.S.C. § 1903 to Procurement of Printing of Government Publications

    Section 1903 of title 44 of the United States Code does not prevent executive agencies from using private printers at agency expense to print copies of government publications for their own use while at the same time requisitioning depository copies from the Government Printing Office at GPO expense. 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/19046/download.

    8/22/2002

  • Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340–2340A

    This opinion, colloquially known as one of the "torture memos" and subsequently rescinded, evaluates the United States' interrogation practices abroad against the standards set forth by the Torture Convention, as implemented by 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340–2340A. The opinion concludes that § 2340A only prohibits acts inflicting severe pain or suffering at an extreme level. The opinion further concludes that certain acts may be cruel, inhuman, or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity to fall within Section 2340A; even if certain interrogation methods violate the statute, necessity or self-defense could provide legal justifications. 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/file/886061/download.

    8/1/2002

  • Interrogation of al Qaeda Operative

    This memorandum, known colloquially as one of the "torture memos" and subsequently rescinded, reviews whether the proposed CIA interrogations of Abu Zubaydah (which would include attention gasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, insects placed in the confinement box, and waterboarding) comply with the federal prohibition on torture, codified at 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340–2340A. The letter concludes that since the proposed interrogation techniques do not introduce long-term health consequences or the requisite intensity of pain and suffering prohibited by § 2340A, the interrogations are legal. 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/file/886076/download.

    8/1/2002

  • Effect of the Patriot Act on Disclosure to the President and Other Federal Officials of Grand Jury and Title III Information Relating to National Security and Foreign Affairs

    The Patriot Act amendments to the confidentiality provisions in Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and 18 U.S.C. § 2517 (part of Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968) did not change this Office's prior opinions that these provisions are subject to an implied exception where disclosure of information is necessary to permit the President to discharge his constitutional responsibilities for national security under Article II. The decision to disclose such information to other Executive Branch officials is a matter for the President himself to determine. He may delegate that authority to others—including by an oral direction—but officials such as the Attorney General may not exercise an inherent constitutional power of the President to disclose such information to others without some direction from the President. The Patriot Act amended Rule 6(e) and Title III to provide that matters involving foreign intelligence or counterintelligence or foreign intelligence information may be disclosed by any attorney for the government (and in the case of Title III, also by an investigative or law enforcement officer) to certain federal officials in order to assist those officials in carrying out their duties. Although the new provision in Rule 6(e) requires that any such disclosures be reported to the district court responsible for supervising the grand jury, disclosures made to the President fall outside the scope of the reporting requirement contained in that amendment, as do related subsequent disclosures made to other officials on the President's behalf. 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/20611/download.

    7/22/2002

  • Federal Reserve Board Efforts to Control Access to Buildings and Open Meetings

    The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System may, consistent with its obligations under the Government in the Sunshine Act, place observers of an open meeting of the Board in a separate room to watch the meeting on closed-circuit television. It is permissible under both the Sunshine Act and the Privacy Act for the Board to require disclosure of personal information and satisfaction of a security check as a condition of entering the Board's buildings for access to the separate room to observe an open meeting. 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/19051/download.

    7/9/2002

  • Applicability of 18 U.S.C. § 4001(a) to Military Detention of United States Citizens

    This opinion examines whether the detention of United States citizens as enemy combatants by the U.S. Armed Forces violates 18 U.S.C. § 4001(a), which states that "no citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress." The opinion concludes that the president's authority to detain enemy combatants, including U.S. citizens, is based on his constitutional authority as commander in chief, and § 4001(a) cannot be read to interfere with that power. This opinion was partially rescinded in 2009. 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/memodetentionuscitizens06272002.pdf.

    6/27/2002

  • Survey of the Law of Expatriation

    Expatriating a U.S. citizen subject to the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on the ground that, after reaching the age of 18, the person has obtained foreign citizenship or declared allegiance to a foreign state generally will not be possible absent substantial evidence, apart from the act itself, that the individual specifically intended to relinquish U.S. citizenship. An express statement of renunciation of U.S. citizenship would suffice. An intent to renounce citizenship can be inferred from the act of serving in the armed forces of a foreign state engaged in hostilities against 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/19056/download.

    6/12/2002

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