CREW v. Department of Justice
On August 27, 2013, CREW filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking to compel the Department of Justice (DOJ), Attorney General Eric Holder, and Assistant Attorney General Virginia A. Seitz to make Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions available to the public as the law requires.
The government has relied on OLC opinions to justify a broad range of controversial policies, including extraordinary rendition, the use of torture, and the killing of Americans abroad. These opinions constitute unpublished statements of policy and interpretations of the law that have been adopted by the executive branch and its agencies. By effectively creating a body of secret law, OLC and DOJ are undermining our democratic government.
The Freedom of Information Act requires executive branch agencies, including DOJ, to make public “final opinions” and “statements of policy which have been adopted by the agency.” Formal opinions from OLC are binding, definitive interpretations of what the law means. DOJ does not prosecute individuals who act in reliance on those opinions, even if those actions are later determined illegal. These opinions help shape government policies and dictate government actions, yet DOJ makes only a few available to the public.
In a July 3, 2013 letter to Assistant Attorney General Seitz, CREW asked that OLC opinions be released, but OLC refused, claiming the opinions are confidential, pre-decisional legal advice that can be withheld.