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Document Type

Article

Abstract

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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