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 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 Francis, the OLC produced approximately 350 opinions from the years 1965, 1969, 1974, and 1981, which can be found in the database below, before agreeing to a settlement that committed it to producing (1) indexes of all unclassified OLC opinions written from 1945 to February 15, 1994; (2) 230 additional opinions selected from those years; and (3) an index of classified OLC opinions written from 1964 to February 15, 1994. This reading room has already been updated with unclassified opinion indexes (which are also available as a comprehensive list here and in .csv format here). Additionally, the Knight Institute has published two opinions received under the settlement discussing the release of the Pentagon Papers. The Institute will continue updating the reading room with new records from the OLC over the summer.

To get alerts when the OLC publishes a new opinion in its database, follow @OLCforthepeople on Twitter.

Showing 441450 of 1947

  • State Taxation of Income of Native American Armed Forces Members

    The Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act prohibits States from taxing the military compensation of Native American armed forces members who are residents or domicilianes of tribal reservations from which they are absent by reason of their military service. 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/19321/download.

    11/22/2000

  • Use of Agency Resources to Support Presidential Transition

    We adhere to the conclusion in our December 14, 1992 Memorandum that, under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, an executive agency or department may provide office space, secretarial services, and other support services to members of the transition team from agency appropriations without reimbursement from the transition appropriation when the provision of such space and support by the agency, rather than by the transition team itself, would minimize disruption to the agency's operations caused by the transfer of the leadership of the agency. Our conclusion in the 1992 Memorandum is not affected by the October 12, 2000 amendment to the Transition Act. Direct support services and office space for those workshops and orientations that the amendment authorizes should be provided by GSA out of the appropriation for the transition, unless their provision by a particular agency would minimize disruption of the agency's mission or operations. 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/19326/download.

    11/22/2000

  • Definition of "Candidate" Under 18 U.S.C. § 207(j)(7)

    For purposes of the "on behalf of a candidate" exemption contained in section 207(j)(7) of title 18, a successful candidate should be viewed as seeking office until the candidate assumes the office to which he or she has been elected. 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/19331/download.

    11/6/2000

  • Applicability of 18 U.S.C. § 207(d) to Certain Employees in the Treasury Department

    The post-employment restrictions of 18 U.S.C. § 207(d), which cover officials paid "at" the rate for level I of the Executive Schedule, do not apply to officials paid at a higher rate. Those officials are instead subject to the restrictions of 18 U.S.C. § 207(c). 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/19336/download.

    11/3/2000

  • Section 235A of the Immigration and Nationality Act

    Section 235A of the Immigration and Nationality Act requires the Attorney General to establish and maintain certain preinspection stations, provided the foreign countries concerned have consented to the establishment of such stations on their territory and provided that certain other preconditions have been satisfied. Section 235A does not oblige the Attorney General or any other executive branch official to enter into diplomatic negotiations with foreign countries in order to obtain their consent to the establishment of preinspection stations on their territory, and it does not require that preinspection stations be established before the preconditions have been satisfied. Accordingly, section 235A does not unconstitutionally infringe on the President's authonty to conduct diplomatic relations. 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/19341/download.

    10/23/2000

  • Payment of Awards in Excess of$250,000 from the Department ofJustice Assets Forfeiture Fund

    This opinion examines whether the Department of Justice can grant award payments larger than $250,000 for information and assistance leading to a civil or criminal forfeiture. Ultimately, the opinion concludes that, though there is no definitive interpretation of the relevant statute, it is clear that the terms "information" and "assistance" have distinct meanings, up to the interpretation of the Attorney General. Thus, while awards for information leading to a forfeiture may not exceed $250,000, the Attorney General may pay awards larger than $250,000 for assistance leading to a forfeiture. 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/936191/download.

    10/18/2000

  • Title III Electronic Surveillance Material and the Intelligence Community

    Under Title III of the Omnibus Cnme Control and Safe Streets Act, law enforcement officials may share with the intelligence community information obtained through surveillance authorized by courts pursuant to Title III where it is done to obtain assistance in preventing, investigating, or prosecuting a crime. Law enforcement may also share with the intelligence community information obtained through surveillance authorized by courts pursuant to Title III where the information is of overriding importance to national security or foreign relations and disclosure is necessary for the President to discharge his constitutional responsibilities over these matters. 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/19346/download.

    10/17/2000

  • A Sitting President's Amenability to Indictment and Criminal Prosecution

    The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions. 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/19351/download.

    10/16/2000

  • Application of the Coreligionists Exemption in Title VII ofthe Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-l(a), to Religious Organizations That Would Directly Receive Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Funds Pursuant to Section 704

    This opinion examines the constitutionality of providing Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ("SAMHSA") funds to religious organizations under various scenarios. The opinion concludes that while there is no categorical funding prohibition, discrimination in favor of coreligionists in a program that directly receives SAMHSA funds raises "difficult and unresolved constitutional questions." 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/936211/download.

    10/12/2000

  • Enforceability of 18 U.S.C. § 1302

    Application of 18 U.S.C. § 1302 to prohibit the mailing of truthful advertising concerning certain lawful gambling operations would violate the First Amendment. Accordingly, the Department of Justice will refrain from enforcing the statute with respect to such mailings. 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/19356/download.

    9/25/2000

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