Oral Argument in Suit to Make Justice Department Disclose Its ‘Secret Law’

On Tuesday, July 18, Campaign for Accountability, represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute, will argue in the United States District Court in Washington D.C. that the Department of Justice must disclose its final written legal opinions that bind federal agencies.

Read the legal filings here.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel provides “formal written opinions” to federal agencies on issues of significant public concern, ranging from targeted killing of Americans on foreign soil to retirement benefits for federal employees. These formal opinions are the authoritative law of the government, but an unknown number are hidden from public view because the Justice Department chooses what to disclose on a case-by-case basis. The lawsuit contends this violates the Freedom of Information Act and asks the court to require the Justice Department to disclose this secret law.

“Our nation was founded upon the ideal of an open democracy, yet the Office of Legal Counsel maintains a body of secret law,” said Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Daniel Stevens. “This is inimical to our values as Americans. The Office should adhere to the same rules as every other governmental institution and release its opinions.”

“The Office of Legal Counsel is often the last word on the law, deciding whether the government can target citizens for death without judicial involvement or wiretap their calls without a warrant,” said Alex Abdo, a senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute who will argue before the court tomorrow. “The Office of Legal Counsel is violating the Freedom of Information Act by withholding final legal opinions that have the force and effect of law.”

About the Knight Institute

The Knight First Amendment Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization established by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to defend the freedoms of speech and press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education.

About Campaign for Accountability

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.