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 411420 of 1945

  • Constitutionality of Amending Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to Change the “Purpose” Standard for Searches

    This opinion reviews the constitutionality of amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA"), so that a FISA search can be approved when the collection of foreign intelligence is "one of the purposes" of the search, rather than the "primary purpose." The opinion concludes that the proposed amendment would not violate the Fourth Amendment, though it notes that some individual searches may raise constitutional questions if the federal prosecutors are too directly invovled and the search appears to only incidentially relate to foreign intelligence. The 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/memoforeignsurveillanceact09252001.pdf.

    9/25/2001

  • Post-Employment Restriction of 12 U.S.C. § 1812(e)

    A Director of the Office of Thrift Supervision who resigns at the President's request is not subject to the two-year restriction, under 12 U.S.C. § 1812(e), against working for an insured depository institution or a depository institution holding company. 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/19156/download.

    9/4/2001

  • The President's Authority to Make a Recess Appointment to the National Labor Relations Board

    The President may make a recess appointment to the National Labor Relations Board of a person whose term as a Senate-confirmed member expired during the current recess of the Senate. 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/19161/download.

    8/31/2001

  • Designation of Acting Associate Attorney General

    Phil Perry, who has already been designated as the first assistant to the office of the Associate Attorney General by virtue of his appointment as the Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General, may, consistent with the Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, serve as the Acting Associate Attorney General even though he was not the first assistant when the vacancy occurred. Because the President has not designated another person as the Acting Associate Attorney General under the Vacancies Reform Act, Mr. Perry, as the Principal Deputy, is required to perform the functions and duties of the office of the Associate Attorney General in an acting capacity. 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/19166/download.

    8/7/2001

  • The President's Authority to Remove the Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission

    The Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission serves at the pleasure of the President and the President has the constitutional authority to remove her for any reason. 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/19171/download.

    7/31/2001

  • Constitutionality of the Rohrabacher Amendment

    The Rohrabacher Amendment, which imposes a funding restriction on the Justice Department's ability to litigate matters relating to the Treaty of Peace with Japan, violates established separation of powers principles and, therefore, is unconstitutional. 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/19201/download.

    7/25/2001

  • Whether Physician-Assisted Suicide Serves a "Legitimate Medical Purpose" Under DEA Regulations

    A physician's assisting in a patient's suicide, even in a manner permitted by state law, is not a "legitimate medical purpose" within the meaning of a Drug Enforcement Agency regulation, and accordingly dispensing controlled substances for this purpose violates the Controlled Substances Act, which the DEA regulation implements. 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/19206/download.

    6/27/2001

  • Direct Aid to Faith-Based Organizations Under the Charitable Choice Provisions of the Community Solutions Act of 2001

    Congress may, consistent with the Establishment Clause, extend the religious exemptions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to faith-based organizations receiving direct payments of federal money under the charitable choice provisions set forth in section 1994A of H.R. 7, the Community Solutions Act of 2001. The fact that a faith-based organization is organized as a tax-exempt, nonprofit entity under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code does not affect the organization's ability to invoke the religious exemptions under sections 702(a) and 703(e)(2) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 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/19211/download.

    6/25/2001

  • Indirect Aid to Faith-Based Organizations Under the Charitable Choice Provisions of the Community Solutions Act of 2001

    The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not necessitate that the charitable choice provisions of H.R. 7, the Community Solutions Act, require faith-based organizations receiving indirect payments of federal money to segregate such funds into an account separate from the organizations' general operating accounts. 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/19216/download.

    6/22/2001

  • Applicability of Post-Employment Restrictions in 18 U.S.C. § 207 to a Former Government Official Representing a Former President or Vice President in Connection with the Presidential Records Act

    Title 18, section 207, U.S. Code, would not prohibit a former government official from representing a former President or former Vice President in connection with his role under the Presidential Records Act, 44 U.S.C. §§ 2201—2207 (1994). 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/19221/download.

    6/20/2001

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