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Office of Legal Counsel

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The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) is an office in the United States Department of Justice that assists the Attorney General's position as legal adviser to the President and all executive branch agencies.



The Office of Legal Counsel was created in 1934 by an act of US Congress, as part of a larger reorganization of executive branch administrative agencies. It was first headed by an assistant solicitor general. In 1951, Attorney General J. Howard McGrath made it a division led by an assistant attorney, and named it the Executive Adjudications Division. This name was changed to Office of Legal Counsel in an administrative order by Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr., issued April 3, 1953.


The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) assists the Attorney General of the United States in their function as legal adviser to the President and all the executive branch agencies, hence the appellation "the president's law firm.". The OLC drafts legal opinions of the Attorney General and also provides its own written opinions and oral advice in response to requests from the Counsel to the President, the various agencies of the executive branch, and offices within the Department of Justice. Such requests typically deal with legal issues of particular complexity and importance or about which two or more agencies are in disagreement. The Office also is responsible for providing legal advice to the executive branch on all constitutional questions and reviewing pending legislation for constitutionality. The decisions of the Office are binding on all executive agencies.

All executive orders and proclamations proposed to be issued by the President are reviewed by the OLC for form and legality, as are various other matters that require the President's formal approval.

In addition to serving as, in effect, outside counsel for the other agencies of the executive branch, the OLC also functions as general counsel for the Department of Justice itself. It reviews all proposed orders of the Attorney General and all regulations requiring the Attorney General's approval.

Newsweek characterized the OLC as "the most important government office you've never heard of. Among its bosses -- before they went on the Supreme Court -- were William Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia. Within the executive branch, including the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency, the OLC acts as a kind of mini Supreme Court. Its carefully worded opinions are regarded as binding precedent -- final say on what the president and all his agencies can and cannot legally do." However, this binding effect has never been tested in a U.S. court.

In the news

During the entirety of President George W. Bush's second term, Steven G. Bradbury served as acting head of OLC. He was first officially nominated on June 23, 2005, and then repeatedly re-nominated because of Senate inaction. His position became a point of political friction between the Republican President and the Democratic-controlled 110th Congress, with Democrats arguing that Bradbury was in the position illegally and Republicans arguing that Democrats were using his nomination to score political points.

In January 2009, President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate Dawn Johnsen to the position of Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. She had previously held that position, in an acting capacity, during the Clinton administration. Her nomination was withdrawn on April 9, 2010.

In June 2011, New York Times reporter Charlie Savage revealed that President Obama took the unusual step of overruling the Office of Legal Counsel's advice with respect to the legality of military action in Libya. The OLC's written opinions have historically been considered binding on the executive branch.


Office of Legal Counsel Wikipedia

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