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 381390 of 1945

  • Authority of Federal Judges and Magistrates to Issue "No-Knock" Warrants

    Federal judges and magistrates may lawfully and constitutionally issue "no-knock" warrants where circumstances justify a no-knock entry, and federal law enforcement officers may lawfully apply for such warrants under such circumstances. Although officers need not take affirmative steps to make an independent re-verification of the circumstances already recognized by a magistrate in issuing a no-knock warrant, such a warrant does not entitle officers to disregard reliable information clearly negating the existence of exigent circumstances when they actually receive such information before execution of the warrant. 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/19061/download.

    6/12/2002

  • Determination of Enemy Belligerency and Military Detention

    This opinion concludes that Jose Padilla, an American citizen associated with al-Qaeda, should be considered an unlawful enemy combatant and may be turned over to military authorities. 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/memomilitarydetention06082002.pdf.

    6/8/2002

  • Applicability of Ineligibility Clause to Appointment of Congressman Tony P. Hall

    The Ineligibility Clause of the Constitution would not bar the President from appointing Congressman Tony P. Hall as United States Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, with the rank of Ambassador. 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/19066/download.

    5/30/2002

  • Application of Conflict of Interest Rules to Appointees Who Have Not Begun Service

    Conflict of interest rules first apply when an appointee begins the duties of his office. 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/19071/download.

    5/8/2002

  • Authority of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board to Delegate Power

    Although the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board may not name an "Acting Chairperson," it may delegate administrative and executive authority to a single member while the position of chairperson is vacant. 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/19076/download.

    4/19/2002

  • Swift Justice Authorization Act

    This opinion reviews the Swift Justice Authorization Act ("SJAA") proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy, which authorizes the president to detain suspected terrorists and conduct military commission trials. The opinion conludes that the SJAA is not only unnecessary, because the president already has that authority as commander in chief, but also unconstitutional, since Congress lacks the authority to set the terms and conditions on the president's authority as commander in chief. 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/memojusticeauthorizationact0482002.pdf.

    4/8/2002

  • Whether Section 319(b) of the Patriot Act Includes Authority for the Issuance of Grand Jury Subpoenas to Foreign Banks That Maintain Correspondent Accounts in the United States

    This opinion concludes that section 319(b) of the Patriot Act does not allow a grand jury to subpoena foreign banks that maintain a correspondent account in the United States, since the Patriot Act authorizes the issuance of subpoenas only by the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General, not by a federal grand jury. 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-section319-patriotact.pdf.

    4/6/2002

  • Centralizing Border Control Policy Under the Supervision of the Attorney General

    In general, the President may not transfer the functions of an agency statutorily created within one Cabinet department to another Cabinet department without an act of Congress. The President may not delegate his presidential authority to supervise and control the executive departments to a particular member of the Cabinet where no statutory authority exists to do so. The President may exercise his own power to establish a comprehensive border control policy for the federal government and direct a single Cabinet member to lead and coordinate the efforts of all Cabinet agencies to implement that policy. 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/19081/download.

    3/20/2002

  • Role of Legal Guardians or Proxies in Naturalization Proceedings

    Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires the Immigration and Naturalization Service as a reasonable accommodation to permit a legal guardian or proxy to represent a mentally disabled applicant in naturalization proceedings. 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/19086/download.

    3/13/2002

  • The President's power as Commander in Chief to transfer captured terrorists to the control and custody of foreign nations

    This opinion considers the legality of transferring captured members of the Taliban militia, al Qaeda, or other terrorist organizations from U.S. custody to other countries. The opinion concludes that while transferring detainees held outside of the U.S. would not violate the Constitution or relevant international law, such as the Geneva Convention and the Torture Convention, a more complex set of rules would apply if detainees are held within the territory of the United States in the future. 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/memorandum03132002.pdf.

    3/13/2002

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