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 401410 of 1945

  • Authority of the President to Suspend Certain Provisions of the ABM Treaty

    This opinion concludes that President Bush's partial suspension of the Treaty on Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems ("The ABM Treaty") is constitutional, since a partial suspension of the ABM Treaty is not a treaty "amendment" that would be subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, and the president exercises all other (unenumerated) powers related to treaty making. 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/memoabmtreaty11152001.pdf.

    11/15/2001

  • Legality of the Use of Military Commissions to Try Terrorists

    The President possesses inherent authority under the Constitution, as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, to establish military commissions to try and punish terrorists captured in connection with the attacks of September 11 or in connection with U.S. military operations in response to those attacks. 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/19121/download.

    11/6/2001

  • Authority of the Deputy Attorney General Under Executive Order 12333

    The Deputy Attorney General has authority to approve searches for intelligence purposes under section 2.5 of Executive Order 12333. 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/19126/download.

    11/5/2001

  • Application of 18 U.S.C. § 208 to Trustees of Private Trusts

    Although a trustee of a private trust, solely by virtue of his capacity as a trustee, should not be deemed to have a personal financial interest in the property of the trust, a trustee of a private trust may have such an interest under certain circumstances. Further, a trustee of a private trust also should be considered to be serving in the capacity of a "trustee" of an "organization" for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 208(a). 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/19131/download.

    11/2/2001

  • Constitutionality of Expanded Electronic Surveillance Against Terrorists

    This opinion provides legal justifications for the Bush Administration's decision to deploy expanded electronic surveillance techniques without obtaining a warrant. The opinion argues that the surveillance can be defended as reasonable under the Fourth Amendment because it advances the compelling government interest of protecting the U.S. from direct attack. 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/1154156/download.

    11/2/2001

  • Duration of the Term of a Member of the Civil Rights Commission

    A member of the Civil Rights Commission, appointed when a predecessor died before the end of his term, serves only the remainder of her predecessor's term. 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/19136/download.

    10/31/2001

  • Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States

    The opinion determines that the president has both constitutional and statutory authority to deploy the military against terrorists operating within the United States. The opinion also determines that deploying troops domestically is consistent with the Posse Comitatus Act, since it was intended to prevent only the use of the military for domestic law enforcement purposes, not military purposes. It further concludes that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations against terrorists; even if challenged in court, the opinion concludes that the military operations would satisfy the Fourth Amendment's reasonableness test. 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/memomilitaryforcecombatus10232001.pdf.

    10/23/2001

  • Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest of Members of FDA Advisory Panels

    Special government employees who serve as members of a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel and who seek waivers of conflicts of interest must publicly disclose any conflicts of interest they may have that relates to the work to be undertaken by the panel. The FDA may not waive a panel member's conflict until the panel member makes the public disclosure. The FDA has considerable discretion to determine how detailed the panel member's disclosure must be, so long as such disclosure is adequate to inform the public of the nature and magnitude of the conflict. 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/19141/download.

    10/5/2001

  • Checking Names of Prohibited Persons Against Records in the NICS Audit Log Concerning Allowed Transfers

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation may check whether names of individuals known to be prohibited from purchasing a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5) appear in records concerning allowed transfers in the audit log of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in the course of auditing the performance of the NICS, and may share the results of such searches with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. 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/19146/download.

    10/1/2001

  • The President's Constitutional Authority to Conduct Military Operations Against Terrorists and Nations Supporting Them

    The President has broad constitutional power to take military action in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Congress has acknowledged this inherent executive power in both the War Powers Resolution and the Joint Resolution passed by Congress on September 14, 2001. The President has constitutional power not only to retaliate against any person, organization, or state suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks on the United States, but also against foreign states suspected of harboring or supporting such organizations. The President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the states that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of September 11. 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/19151/download.

    9/25/2001

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