CfA Sues DOJ for Failing to Release OLC Opinions


Contact: Daniel Stevens,, 202.780.5750

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) filed a lawsuit to compel the Department of Justice (DOJ) to comply with the law and release opinions from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).

Read the complaint here.

CfA Executive Director Anne Weismann said, “The Office of Legal Counsel interprets the law for the executive branch.  In a democratic society, everyone has the right to know what the law is. By refusing to reveal its opinions, OLC is creating a secret body of law that erodes the ideals upon which our nation was founded.”

OLC serves as legal advisor for the federal government, issuing opinions on the meaning of laws that are immensely consequential.  Some have been used to justify controversial policies such as extraordinary rendition, torture, and the killing of Americans abroad. DOJ does not prosecute individuals whose actions are justified by OLC opinions, even if those actions are later determined illegal.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires the Justice Department to disclose all unpublished binding OLC opinions, but DOJ has repeatedly refused to do so.  In a March 22, 2016 letter to the Office of Legal Counsel, CfA requested that OLC fulfill its legal obligations by publishing its opinions.  Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Bies responded to CfA’s request in May, stating that OLC has the discretion to decide on an individualized, case-by-case basis, whether to publish its opinions.  Given OLC’s hard and fast position, CfA filed suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia to compel OLC and DOJ to comply with their legal obligations under the FOIA.

Ms. Weisman continued, “What possible interest can our government have in hiding the law from its own citizens?  The Justice Department should recognize the futility of its position and immediately disclose OLC opinions.”

The complaint is embedded below.

UPDATE: August 22, 2016

Today, Campaign for Accountability filed an opposition to the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.  The motion can be found here.

Click here to see all of the documents related to this lawsuit.

Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.