Justice Department Sued Over ‘Secret Body Of Law’

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) is being sued over its “secret body of law” a watchdog claims federal officials use but keep out of public view.

“OLC’s ongoing refusal to comply with its mandatory obligations under (FOIA) has deprived the public and [Campaign for Accountability] of valuable information and resulted in the creation of a body of authoritative controlling secret law,” the suit claimed in a complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Attorneys representing the non-profit government watchdog Campaign for Accountability are suing the DOJ seeking to force the rules’ release.

“The Office of Legal Counsel [OLC] interprets the law for the executive branch,” Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Anne Weismann said in a statement. “In a democratic society, everyone has the right to know what the law is. By refusing to reveal its opinions, OLC is creating a secret body of law that erodes the ideals upon which our nation was founded.”

Weissman asked, “what possible interest can our government have in hiding the law from its own citizens? The Justice Department should recognize the futility of its position and immediately disclose OLC opinions.”

The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel is chief legal adviser and interpreter for federal departments and agencies on topics ranging from torture to inspectors general access to records, but OLC attorneys release their opinions if they choose to do so.

Weissman’s group claims OLC’s failure to disclose all of its opinions violates the Freedom of Information Act.

The nonprofit asked OLC in a March letter to make its opinions public for inspection, but OLC claimed it has the discretion to make case-by-case releases, according to the complaint. (RELATED: Justice Department ‘Undermines’ Government Watchdogs By Blocking Access To Records)

A previous suit sought access to the opinions earlier this year, but it was dismissed because it was filed under the federal government’s Administrative Procedures Act, rather than the FOIA.

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