Eighteen members joined Wicker in writing a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Mississippi U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, led Senate committee ranking members in a letter to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the DOJ to rescind the Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC) 2017 opinion.
“The constitutional authority to conduct oversight — that is, the authority to make official inquiries into and to conduct investigations of executive branch programs and activities — may be exercised only by each house of Congress or, under existing delegations, by committees and subcommittees (or their chairmen),” the OLC opinion from May 1, 2017 said. “Individual members of Congress, including ranking minority members, do not have the authority to conduct oversight in the absence of a specific delegation by a full house, committee, or subcommittee.”
The ranking members wrote that this opinion misinterprets the constitutional responsibilities of Congress for not only monitoring the Executive Branch, but it doesn’t provide clarity on whether the limitations apply to information requests made to Offices of Inspectors General (OIG).
The Senators argue that the OLC opinion ignores longstanding judicial precedent, the notion that only committee or subcommittee Chairs matter when it comes to conducting oversight is a “red herring,” Congress structured its committees with a Chair and Ranking Member in order to provide strategic leadership, and falsely characterizes the primary method that Congress obtains information from the Executive Branch.
“It seems as if the Justice Department drafted the opinion more to protect the Executive Branch from congressional scrutiny than provide constitutional order to the information sharing process. The opinion creates insurmountable challenges for Ranking Members in conducting effective oversight,” the Senators wrote.
They ask the Justice Department to take action in order to restore balance of information access between majority and minority leadership on committees.
The letter states that, “the Biden Administration is purportedly committed to cooperation and transparency in government. Fulfilling these commitments made by the President, Vice President, and the Cabinet requires reminding this opinion.”
Click here to read the full letter.
The following members who joined Sen. Wicker include:
Senators Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee; Tim Scott, R-S.C., ranking member of the Special Committee on Aging; John Boozman, R-Ark., ranking member of the Agriculture Committee; Richard Shelby, R-Ala., vice-chair of the Appropriations Committee; James Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member of the Armed Services Committee; Pat Toomey, R-Pa., ranking member of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., ranking member of the Budget Committee; John Barrasso, R-Wyo., ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, ranking member of the Finance Committee; James Risch, R-Idaho, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee; Richard Burr, R-N.C., ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; Rob Portman, R-Ohio, ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, ranking member of the Indian Affairs Committee; Marco Rubio, R-Fla., vice-chair of the Intelligence Committee; Roy Blunt, R-Mo., ranking member of the Rules Committee; Rand Paul, R-Ky., ranking member of the Small Business Committee; and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.