February 25, 2020

Duckworth Introduces Bill to Improve Oversight of Executive Branch & Increase Transparency


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) today introduced legislation to improve oversight over the Executive Branch and increase government transparency by requiring the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to publicly disclose all past legal opinions, as well as any it produces moving forward. The Trump Administration treats the OLC’s legal opinions as binding despite the fact that neither Congress nor the American public have access to all of these legal interpretations and there is no Congressional or judicial oversight of these opinions. Secret DOJ OLC opinions have been used to justify torture and the claim that the President cannot be indicted while in office dates back to a famous Nixon-era OLC publication.    

“The secrecy surrounding these highly consequential legal opinions—which often undermine the laws that Congress passed and a President signed—is unacceptable,” Duckworth said. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and I’m introducing the DOJ OLC Transparency Act to help strengthen oversight and accountability by ensuring Congress and the American public are able to review these opinions.”

Additional provisions under the Demanding Oversight and Justification Over Legal Conclusions Transparency Act (DOJ OLC Transparency Act):

  • If the opinions are unavailable, the U.S. Attorney General (AG) must explain why they are unavailable
  • If the opinions are considered sensitive, Secret, or Top Secret, the AG must explain why keeping the opinion fully or partially redacted to the public is necessary for past opinions and a brief summary of why it is redacted for any future opinions
  • Members of Congress and appropriately cleared Congressional staff must be provided a non-redacted copy of all public opinions
  • If a non-redacted copy is unavailable, the AG must explain why a non-redacted copy is unavailable
  • Timeframes have been provided as to when the past and future opinions must be made publically available
  • If a copy of the opinion cannot be found, a description of the opinion must be provided

Earlier this Congress, Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA-08) introduced related legislation, the OLC SUNLIGHT Act, and has been leading the legislative effort to enhance DOJ OLC transparency in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Keeping people in the dark about laws that affect their lives goes against the basic principles of democracy,” said Rep. Cartwright. “The secrecy surrounding the OLC’s legal opinions is a disservice to the rule of law and Congress’ hard work. I applaud Senator Duckworth for leading the charge in the Senate to shine a light on the OLC and protect the American peoples’ rights.”