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 391400 of 1945

  • Application of 18 U.S.C. § 203 to Former Employee's Receipt of Attorney's Fees in Qui Tam Action

    Title 18, section 203, U.S. Code, would not bar a former federal employee from sharing in attorney's fees in a qui tam action, provided that those fees, calculated under the lodestar formula, are prorated such that the former employee does not receive any fees attributable to his time in the government. 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/19091/download.

    2/28/2002

  • Potential Legal Constraints Applicable to Interrogations of Persons Captured by U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan

    This opinion examines whether Miranda v. Arizona (1966) poses legal constraints on the admissibility of statements made by Afghan detainees during interrogation in U.S. Court. The report concludes that, while statements made during custodial interrogation without Miranda warnings are admissible in military proceedings, the admissibility of these statements in federal courts depends on whether the interrogation serves the purpose of regulating the practices of law enforcement or obtaining information for military operations and intelligence. 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-constraints-feb2002.pdf.

    2/26/2002

  • Status of Taliban Forces Under Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949

    The President has reasonable factual grounds to determine that no members of the Taliban militia are entitled to prisoner of war status under Article 4 of the 1949 Geneva Convention (III) Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. 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/19096/download.

    2/7/2002

  • Memorandum From Alberto Gonzales to the President on the Application of the Geneva Convention to Al Qaeda and the Taliban

    This memo makes minor revisions to a previous OLC opinion on the application of the Geneva Conventions to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. 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/aclu-ii-012602.pdf.

    1/26/2002

  • Application of Treaties and Laws to al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees

    This opinion evaluates whether the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War ("Geneva III") apply to captured members of al Qaeda and the Taliban militia. The opinion determines that al Qaeda detainees cannot claim the protections of either agreement, due to al Qaeda's role as a nonstate actor and the novel nature of the conflict. Similarly, although Afghanistan is a signatory to Geneva III, the president may suspend the treaty obligations with respect to Afghanistan by deeming it a failed state. 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/memo-laws-taliban-detainees.pdf.

    1/22/2002

  • Assertion of Executive Privilege With Respect to Prosecutorial Documents

    Executive privilege may properly be asserted in response to a congressional subpoena seeking prosecutorial decisionmaking documents of the Department of Justice. 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/19101/download.

    12/10/2001

  • Application of Federal Advisory Committee Act to Non-Governmental Consultations

    The Federal Advisory Committee Act does not apply to the consultations that the Department of Defense plans to conduct with various individuals from outside the government regarding the policies and procedures that DoD is developing for military commissions. 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/19106/download.

    12/7/2001

  • Application of Privacy Act Congressional-Disclosure Exception to Disclosures to Ranking Minority Members

    The congressional-disclosure exception to the disclosure prohibition of the Privacy Act generally does not apply to disclosures to committee ranking minority members. 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/19111/download.

    12/5/2001

  • Treaties and Laws Applicable to the Conflict in Afghanistan and to the Treatment of Persons Captured by U.S. Armed Forces in that Conflict

    This opinion evaluates whether captured members of al Qaeda and the Taliban militia are protected by certain international treaties and laws, such as the War Crimes Act, Hague Convention IV, Geneva Conventions, and customary international law. The opinion determines that al Qaeda detainees cannot claim the protections of these agreements, due to al Qaeda's role as a nonstate actor and the novel nature of the conflict. Similarly, since Afghanistan is not a party to Hague Convention IV, captured Taliban fighters are not covered by it. Finally, though Afghanistan is a signatory to Geneva III, the president may suspend the treaty obligations with respect to Afghanistan by deeming it a failed state. 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/aclu-ii-113001.pdf.

    11/30/2001

  • Constitutional Issues Raised by Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations Bill

    A provision prohibiting the use of appropriated funds for United Nations peacekeeping missions involving the use of United States Armed Forces under the command of a foreign national unconstitutionally constrains the President's authority as Commander in Chief and his authority over foreign affairs. A provision prohibiting the use of appropriated funds for cooperation with, assistance to, or other support for the International Criminal Court would be unconstitutional insofar as it would prohibit the President from providing support and assistance to the ICC under any and all circumstances, but it can be applied in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority in the area of foreign affairs. 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/19116/download.

    11/28/2001

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