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This Article argues that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)—an office within the Justice Department that issues legal opinions that govern executive branch actors—arms the executive branch with a powerful weapon to deploy in its conflicts with Congress. Despite its reputation as a neutral arbiter of constitutional questions, OLC’s separation-of-powers opinions do not simply describe the executive’s view of the law; they actually augment executive powers vis-à-vis Congress. This novel argument emerges from two descriptive claims laid out in this Article. The first is that OLC’s institutional design guarantees that its separation-of-powers opinions will articulate a decidedly pro-executive view of the law. The second is that these executive-friendly legal analyses not only guide the actions of executive officials, but also shape the legal landscape outside the executive branch. In other words, OLC makes its own legal reality: its separation-of-powers opinions first envision a world that values executive branch prerogatives over congressional interests, and then, by their very existence, help realize that vision. The result is that OLC provides the executive with a powerful weapon in its inter-branch disputes with Congress—a phenomenon that to date has gone unremarked. After identifying the mechanisms through which OLC places a thumb on the executive’s side of the scale in inter-branch disputes, this Article suggests several ways that Congress could level the playing field.


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7 Sep 2022
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  • Subject
    • Politics

    • President/Executive Department

  • Journal title
    • Boston College Law Review

  • Volume
    • 62

  • Issue
    • 2

  • Pagination
    • 515

  • Date submitted

    7 September 2022