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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  • Index of 1981 unclassified OLC legal opinions

    The OLC disclosed this index—of unclassifed OLC legal opinions from 1981—to the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University during the litigation in Francis v. DOJ. The OLC labeled the index "preliminary."

    3/3/2020

  • Index of 1974 unclassified OLC legal opinions

    The OLC disclosed this index—of unclassifed OLC legal opinions from 1974—to the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University during the litigation in Francis v. DOJ. The OLC labeled the index "preliminary."

    1/6/2020

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