The decision to release the documents comes as the Senate is to vote Wednesday on advancing President Barack Obama's nomination of the memo's author, Harvard professor and former Justice Department official David Barron, to sit on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had vowed to fight Barron's confirmation, and some Democratic senators were calling for the memo's public release before a final vote.
Wednesday's expected procedural vote would allow the Senate to move ahead with a final vote on Barron on Thursday. "I think we'll be OK," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said earlier Tuesday.
Drone killing memo: Anwar Al-Awlaki at Dar al Hijrah Mosque on October 4, 2001, in Falls Church, Va.Getty Images: Tracy Woodward, The Washington Post
Anwar Al-Awlaki at Dar al Hijrah Mosque on October 4, 2001, in Falls Church, Va.
Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader born in the United States, was killed after being targeted by a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. Some legal scholars and human rights activists complained that it was illegal for the U.S. to kill American citizens away from the battlefield without a trial.
Some senators, including those in Obama's own party, have called for the public release of the memo before the final confirmation vote. The White House agreed under the pressure to show senators unredacted copies of all written legal advice written by Barron regarding the potential use of lethal force against U.S. citizens in counterterrorism operations.
Until now, the administration has fought in court to keep the writings from public view. But administration officials said that Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. decided this week not appeal an April 21 ruling requiring disclosure by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York and that Attorney General Eric Holder concurred with his opinion.
The release could take some time, since the redactions are subject to court approval. And the administration also is insisting that a classified ruling on the case also be redacted to protect information classified for national security, but not the legal reasoning, one of the officials said.
The drone strike that killed al-Awlaki also killed another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, an al-Qaida propagandist. Al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed the following month in another drone attack.
The American Civil Liberties Union and two reporters for The New York Times, Charlie Savage and Scott Shane, filed a FOIA suit. In January 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon ruled that she had no authority to order the documents disclosed, although she chided the Obama administration for refusing to release them.
But a three-judge appeals court panel noted that after McMahon…