A Bill to Challenge Secret Law

09.17.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

New legislation would require the Attorney General to report to Congress whenever the Department of Justice issues a legal opinion indicating that the executive branch is not bound by an existing legal statute.

The bill, introduced September 16 in the Senate by Senators Russ Feingold and Dianne Feinstein, responds to the Bush Administration’s use of secret opinions from the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to circumvent binding legal restrictions on domestic surveillance, torture and other practices.

“The Bush Administration has relied heavily on secret OLC opinions in a broad range of matters involving core constitutional rights and civil liberties,” said Senator Feingold.

“The administration’s policies on interrogation of detainees were justified by OLC opinions that were withheld from Congress and the public for several years. The President’s warrantless wiretapping program was justified by OLC opinions that, to this day, have been seen only by a select few Members of Congress. And, when it was finally made public this year, the March 2003 memorandum on torture written by John Yoo was filled with references to other OLC memos that Congress and the public have never seen–on subjects ranging from the Government’s ability to detain U.S. citizens without congressional authorization to the Government’s ability to operate outside the Fourth Amendment in domestic military operations.”

“When OLC concludes that a statute passed by Congress does not bind the executive branch, Congress has a right to know that the executive branch is not operating under that statute, and to be apprised of the law under which the executive branch is operating. The bill I am introducing with Senator Feinstein codifies that right,” Senator Feingold said.

See the introduction of the “OLC Reporting Act of 2008,” September 16.