Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1
[Volume 4, Page 13]
William Wirt, Office of Attorney General12 June 18181 Ops. Atty. Gen. 211
The commission of Attorney General authorizes and empowers him to execute the duties of that office according to law; and the law which creates this office prescribes its duties in the following terms: "Whose duty it shall be to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court, in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinions upon questions of law, when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments, touching any matters that may concern their departments." Under this law, which is the only one upon the subject, I do not think myself authorized to give an official opinion in any case, except on the call of the President, or some one of the heads of departments; and I should consider myself as transcending the limits of my commission in a very unjustifiable manner, in attempting to attach the weight of my office to any opinion not authorized by the law which prescribes my duties. You will, I trust, excuse me, therefore, in declining to give the official opinion which you request; and which I assure you I do, not from any want of respect to you, but purely from a sense of official duty, and my respect for the law which prescribes that duty.
If you think the matter of sufficient consequence to make an official opinion from me desirable, you will, perhaps, have it in your power to give your application such a direction, through the Navy Department, or that of War, as to justify me in expressing the opinion officially, which I have every personal disposition to give.
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