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.

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  • Applicability of Government Corporation Control Act to "Gain Sharing Benefit" Agreement

    The Government Corporation Control Act does not require the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to obtain legislative authorization before entering into a "gain sharing benefit" agreement with a private corporation that grants NASA deferred cash payments based on an increase in the value of the corporation's common stock. 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/19361/download.

    9/18/2000

  • Administration of Coral Reef Resources in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands

    The President may use his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish a national monument in the territorial sea and a national monument in the exclusive economic zone to protect marine resources. The President may not establish a national wildlife refuge in the territorial sea or the exclusive economic zone using the implied power to reserve public lands recognized in United States v. Midwest Oil Co., 236 U.S. 459 (1915). The authority to manage national monuments can, under certain circumstances, be shared between the Department of the Interior and other agencies, but the Fish and Wildlife Service must maintain sole management authority over any national wildlife refuge area within a monument. Regulations applicable to national monuments trump inconsistent fishery management plans, but the establishment of a national monument would not preclude the establishment of a national marine sanctuary in the same area. 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/19366/download.

    9/15/2000

  • Applicability of the Privacy Act to the White House

    The Privacy Act does not apply to the White House Office, which is also known as the Office of the President. 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/19371/download.

    9/8/2000

  • Application of 18 U.S.C. § 209 to Employee-Inventors Who Receive Outside Royalty Payments

    A federal government employee who obtains patent rights to an invention made in the course of federal employment ordinarily does not violate 18 U S.C. § 209 by licensing the patent rights to a private entity and receiving royalty payments in exchange. 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/19376/download.

    9/7/2000

  • Constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 1120

    Congress has clear constitutional authonty to proscribe killings committed by escaped federal inmates serving life sentences, as provided in 18 U.S.C. § 1120, where the killings facilitate the escape or the avoidance of recapture. Congress's penological and custodial interests in ensuring the incapacitation of life-sentenced federal inmates provide compelling support for the constitutionality of 18 U.S C. § 1120 even when it is applied with respect to a post-escape killing that is not related to the escape or subsequent efforts to avoid recapture. 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/19381/download.

    8/31/2000

  • Whether a Former President May Be Indicted and Tried for the Same Offenses for Which He Was Impeached by the House and Acquitted by the Senate

    The Constitution permits a former President to be indicted and tried for the same offenses for which he was impeached by the House of Representatives and acquitted by 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/19386/download.

    8/18/2000

  • Division of Powers and Responsibilities Between the Chairperson of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and the Board as a Whole

    Under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and general principles governing the operation of boards, the day-to-day administration of Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board matters and execution of Board policies are the responsibilities of the chairperson, subject to Board oversight, while substantive policymaking and regulatory authority is vested in the Board as a whole. In disputes over the allocation of authority in specific instances, the Board's decision controls, as long as it is not arbitrary or unreasonable. 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/19391/download.

    6/26/2000

  • Applicability of the Post-Employment Restrictions of 18 U.S.C. § 207(c) to Assignees Under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act

    The post-employment restrictions of 18 U S.C. § 207(c) apply to persons who are assigned from a university or a state or local government to the Department of Energy under the intergovernmental Personnel Act and are compensated at or above the ES-5 level, except for those who occupy positions ordinarily below the ES-5 level and who receive salaries only from the detailing employers, with the federal agency reimbursing those employers for an amount less than an ES-5 salary. 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/19396/download.

    6/26/2000

  • EPA Assessment of Penalties Against Federal Agencies for Violation of the Underground Storage Tank Requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

    The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to assess penalties against federal agencies for violations of RCRA's underground storage tank provisions. EPA's underground storage tank field citation procedures do not violate RCRA or the Constitution. 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/19401/download.

    6/14/2000

  • Authority for Military Police to Issue Traffic Citations to Motorists on Bolling Air Force Base

    Military police have the authority to issue citations, enforceable in federal court, to motorists who violate traffic laws on Bolling Air Force Base. Congress has given the General Services Administration limited authority over military installations for the narrow purpose of issuing and enforcing the regulations related to motor vehicle violations. 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/19406/download.

    6/5/2000

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