Washington—The Department of Justice (DOJ) must release opinions containing secret law on key issues produced by the Office of Legal Council (OLC), memoranda which DOJ has withheld in violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), according to a lawsuit filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
OLC issues opinions establishing the executive branch’s authoritative position on what is and is not legal on subjects ranging from immigration to warfare to spying on civilians. One well-known memo justified the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques like waterboarding, and OLC may have weighed in recently on the president’s immigration executive orders and other key issues. These decisions are secret law, as they govern the operations of the government without the American people knowing of their existence or what is in them.
CREW’s lawsuit seeks to force OLC’s secret law into view. The FOIA requires that DOJ must release all final opinions and adopted statements of policy to the public, but despite years of requests from CREW, they have not.
“This lawsuit is part of a long effort to give the public access to these vital opinions,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “The law is clear that the government must release this secret law to the public, and we are asking the court to enforce the law since the Department of Justice will not.”
CREW first sued DOJ for not releasing OLC opinions in 2013. In January 2017, an appeals court ruled on the proper way to request the memoranda, which CREW followed, but OLC still has not responded to CREW’s request.
“It is imperative the American people know the laws that govern the country they live in,” Bookbinder said. “Transparency is the bedrock of a free and open society.”