Opinions Policy

Michigan law, MCL 14.32, provides that "[i]t shall be the duty of the attorney general, when required, to give his opinion upon all questions of law submitted to him by the legislature, or by either branch thereof, or by the governor, auditor general, treasurer or any other state officer . . . ."  Michigan's Supreme Court has recognized that one of the "primary missions" of the Attorney General is to give legal advice to the Legislature, and to departments and agencies of state government. East Grand Rapids School Dist v Kent County Tax Allocation Bd, 415 Mich 381, 394; 330 NW2d 7 (1982). Although not legally required to do so, the Attorney General may respond to opinion requests from individual members of the Legislature. In deciding whether to grant such requests, the Attorney General takes into account the need to allocate limited resources and other long recognized policy considerations outlined below. County prosecutors may also submit opinion requests provided that they are accompanied by a memorandum of law analyzing the legal question.

Consistent with his primary mission, the Attorney General prioritizes opinion requests that affect the operation of state government. Because the Legislature has authorized local units of government to employ their own legal counsel to provide guidance on matters of local concern, the Attorney General typically does not issue opinions concerning the interpretation of local charters, local ordinances, locally negotiated collective bargaining agreements, and other uniquely local issues. Other typical reasons for declining a request are: 1) the requester is not a person authorized to request an opinion under the applicable law; 2) the request seeks an interpretation of proposed legislation that may never become law; 3) the question asked is currently pending before a court or administrative tribunal or likely to be the subject of litigation in the near future; 4) the request involves the operation of the judicial branch of government or a local unit of government; or 5) the request seeks legal advice on behalf of, or involves disputes between, private persons or entities.

If the opinion request is granted, it is assigned to an assistant attorney general having recognized expertise in the relevant area of the law. This attorney is expected to prepare a thoroughly researched and well-written draft. The Assistant Attorney General for Law then reviews the draft to assure it is legally sound and performs any editing that may be needed before sending the draft to the Chief Legal Counsel. The draft also may be circulated to other attorneys within the Department of Attorney General for additional substantive review. Drafts of most formal opinions and some letter opinions are first submitted for consideration and approval by the Attorney General's Opinion Review Board (ORB), before submission to the Attorney General for his review. Given the time and attention accorded these matters, the opinions process may take several months to complete depending upon the complexity of the question presented.