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 421430 of 1945

  • Emoluments Clause and World Bank

    An international organization in which the United States participates, such as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, is not a "foreign State" under the Emoluments Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 8. 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/19231/download.

    5/24/2001

  • Authority of State Officials to Share Motor Vehicle Record Information With the Department of Defense or Its Contractors

    The Drivers' Privacy Protection Act permits state Department of Motor Vehicles offices to release covered information in motor vehicle records to both the Department of Defense and private entities acting on DoD's behalf, provided that the records are used for a statutorily approved purpose of DoD, such as military recruitment. 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/19226/download.

    5/24/2001

  • Obligation to Sell Governors Island

    The statutory requirement that the Administrator of General Services sell Governors Island at fair market value continues to apply notwithstanding the President's subsequent reservation of Governors Island as a national monument under the Antiquities Act. 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/19236/download.

    4/24/2001

  • Regulation of an Inmate's Access to the Media

    So long as the Bureau of Prisons' decision to regulate an inmate's access to the news media is reasonably related to the legitimate penological interests articulated in the applicable regulations, the Bureau of Prisons may bar face-to-face media interviews or videotaped media interviews with an inmate, or place other reasonable conditions and restrictions on such interviews. 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/19241/download.

    4/13/2001

  • Authority of the President to Remove the Staff Director of the Civil Rights Commission and Appoint an Acting Staff Director

    The President has the authority to remove the Staff Director of the United States Commission on Civil Rights and to appoint an Acting Staff Director. 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/19246/download.

    3/30/2001

  • Applicability of APA Notice and Comment Procedures to Revocation of Delegation of Authority

    The Secretary of Commerce may revoke a delegation to the Director of the Census without submitting the revocation to the notice and comment procedures of the Administrative Procedure Act, notwithstanding the fact that the Secretary voluntarily elected to follow those procedures in issuing the delegation. 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/19251/download.

    2/14/2001

  • Possible Criminal Charges Against American Citizen Who Was A Member Of the al Qaeda Terrorist Organization or the Taliban Militia

    This opinion reviews possible charges against John Walker, a U.S. citizen serving in the Taliban militia and later al Qaeda before his capture. The opinion concludes that Walker can be either court-martialed or charged in the Federal court with treason, killing a federal employee, assisting a terrorist organization, or unlawfully participating in 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 https://justice.gov/olc/docs/aclu-ii-122101.pdf.

    1/21/2001

  • Applicability of the Antideficiency Act to a Violation of a Condition or Internal Cap Within an Appropriation

    Any expenditure of funds in violation of a condition or internal cap in an appropriations act would generally constitute a violation of the Antideficiency Act. 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/19256/download.

    1/19/2001

  • NOAA Corps Eligibility for Professional Liability Insurance Costs Reimbursement

    Members of the NOAA Commissioned Corps may constitute qualified employees eligible for professional liability insurance cost reimbursement under a federal appropriations statute, if they otherwise satisfy the statutory definition for "law enforcement officer," "supervisor," or "management official." 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/19271/download.

    1/19/2001

  • Investment of Federal Trust Funds for Cheyenne River and Lower Brule Sioux

    Congress intended the term "interest" in title VI of the Water Resources Development Act of 1999 to have its usual and customary meaning: the coupon rate of the debt obligation. The universe of "available obligations" under title VI of the Water Resources Development Act of 1999 includes obligations of government corporations and government-sponsored entities whose charter statutes provide that their obligations are lawful investments for federal trust funds. The fiduciary duty owed pursuant to a federal trust fund is defined and limited by the terms of the statute creating the trust. 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/19266/download.

    1/19/2001

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