August 27, 2013

CREW Sues DOJ for Refusing to Release OLC Memos

Attorney General Eric HolderWashington, D.C. — Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (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  These opinions constitute unpublished statements of policy and interpretations of the law that have been adopted by the executive branch and its agencies.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.

ON THE BLOG: Why CREW Is Suing DOJ to Force Disclosure of OLC Opinions

“In light of recent revelations regarding the National Security Agency, it is of increasing importance that Americans know what the executive branch thinks it can and cannot do — and why,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.  “Our democracy is undermined when the government operates under secret law.  All citizens have the right to know what the law is.  We expect the judiciary — tasked with enforcing federal laws — will agree and force the administration to reveal its legal theories.”

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.

Sloan continued, “What is DOJ hiding?  Why, exactly, shouldn’t Americans understand how the administration interprets the laws governing our nation?  Far from the most transparent administration in history, the Obama Justice Department seems remarkably similar to the Bush Justice Department.”

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a non-profit legal watchdog group dedicated to holding public officials accountable for their actions. For more information, please visit or contact Jordan Libowitz at 202.408.5565 or

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