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 in Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by the Knight Institute, including opinions about the Pentagon Papers, the Civil Rights Era, and the War Powers Act. It also contains indexes of all unclassified OLC opinions written between 1945 and February 15, 1994. Those indexes are also available as a comprehensive list here and in .csv format here.
The Knight Institute will continue updating the reading room with new records. To get alerts when the OLC publishes a new opinion in its database, follow @OLCforthepeople on Twitter.
Showing 1–10 of 2189
Application of the Comstock Act to the Mailing of Prescription Drugs That Can Be Used for Abortions
This opinion examimed the application of the Comstock Act to the mailing of mifepristone and misoprostol. The OLC concluded that the Comstock Act does not prohibit the mailing of those drugs where the sender lacks the intent that the recipient will use the drugs unlawfully. Because of the many ways in which those drugs can be used lawfully, even in states that restrict access to lawful abortions, the OLC explained that "the mere mailing of such drugs to a particular jurisdiction is an insufficient basis for concluding that the sender intends them to be used unlawfully." The original opinion is available at https://www.justice.gov/olc/opinion/file/1560596/download.
Application of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987 to Diplomatic Visit of Palestinian Delegation
Section 1002(2) of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987, which prohibits the expenditure of funds from the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United States to further the PLO's interests, is unconstitutional to the extent it prevents the exercise of the President's Article II authorities to receive public ministers and to determine the manner in which the Executive engages in diplomacy with foreign representatives. The ATA therefore does not prevent PLO representatives invited by the State Department to Washington, D.C., from spending PLO funds to attend diplomatic meetings with Executive Branch officials, including for expenses that are necessary incidents to those meetings. The original opinion is available at https://www.justice.gov/olc/opinion/file/1548981/download.
Federal Vacancies Reform Act's Application to a Vacancy for Which Prior Presidents Submitted Multiple Nominations
Upon the inauguration of a new President, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act restarts the entire timing sequence for acting service in a position that was vacant on inauguration day, authorizing an acting official to serve for up to 300 days after inauguration day, during the pendency of the new President's first and second nominations for the vacant position, and for 210 days following the rejection, withdrawal, or return of a first or second nomination submitted by the new President. The original opinion is available at https://www.justice.gov/olc/opinion/file/1547721/download.
Authority of the Department of Defense to Use Appropriations for Travel by Service Members and Dependents to Obtain Abortions
The Department of Defense may lawfully expend funds to pay for service members and their dependents to travel to obtain abortions that DoD cannot itself perform due to statutory restrictions. DoD may lawfully expend funds to pay for such travel pursuant to both its express statutory authorities and, independently, the necessary expense doctrine. 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://www.justice.gov/olc/file/1545696/download.
Application of the Hyde Amwendment to the Provision of Transportation for Women Seeking Abortions
The Hyde Amendment's prohibition barring the Department of Health and Human Services from expending covered funds for any abortion does not bar HHS from expending covered funds to provide transportation for women seeking abortions in circumstnaces in which HHS has the requisite statutory authority and appropriations to provide such transportation.
Intergovernmental Immunity for the Department of Veterans Affairs and Its Employees When Providing Certain Abortion Services
The rule issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs on Reproductive Health Services is a lawful exercise of the VA's authority. States may not impose criminal or civil liability on VA employees--including doctors, nurses, and administrative staff--who provide or facilitate abortions or related services in a manner authorized by federal law, including VA's rule. The Supremacy Clause bars state officials from penalizing VA employees for performing their federal functions, whether through criminal prosecution, license revocation proceedings, or civil litigation. The original opinion is available at https://www.justice.gov/olc/file/1537431/download.
Use of the HEROES Act of 2003 to Cancel the Principal Amounts of Student Loans
The Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, Pub. L. No. 108-76, 117 Stat. 904, grants the Secretary of Education authority to reduce or eliminate the obligation to repay the principal balance of federal student loan debt, including on a class-wide basis in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, provided all other requirements of the statute are satisfied.
Application of the Assimilative Crimes Act to Conduct of Federal Employees Authorized by Federal Law
Federal employees performing their duties in a manner authorized by federal law, while on a federal enclave within a state that criminalizes such authorized conduct, would not violate the Assimilative Crimes Act and could not be prosecuted by the federal government under that law. The original opinion is available at https://www.justice.gov/olc/file/1527726/download.
Authority of a Majority of the FDIC Board to Present Items for Vote and Decision
The Chairperson of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation does not have the authority to prevent a majority of the FDIC Board from presenting items to the Board for a vote and decision. The original opinion is available at https://www.justice.gov/olc/file/1529481/download.
Re: Best Practices for OLC Legal Advice and Written Opinions
Memorandum for Attorneys of the Office, from David J. Barron, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Best Practices for OLC Legal Advice and Written Opinions (July 16, 2010) (with addendum dated June 9, 2022). The original opinion is available at www.justice.gov/olc/page/file/1511836/download