First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
 
Former presidents can't withhold records, court says

By The Associated Press
10.02.07

WASHINGTON — Presidents don’t have indefinite veto power over which records are made public after they’ve left office, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

In a narrowly crafted ruling in American Historical Association v. National Archives and Records Administration, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly invalidated part of President Bush’s 2001 executive order, which allowed former presidents and vice presidents to review executive records before they are released under the Freedom of Information Act.

By law, the National Archives has the final say over the release of presidential records and Kollar-Kotelly ruled that Bush’s executive order “effectively eliminates” that discretion. It allows former presidents to delay the release of records “presumably indefinitely,” she said.

The judge ordered the National Archives not to withhold any more documents based on that section of the executive order.

The ruling was made in a lawsuit filed by the consumer-advocacy group Public Citizen, which argued that Bush’s Executive Order 13,233 was an “impermissible exercise of the executive power.”

The judge dismissed most of the claims and sidestepped some of the loftier questions, such as whether the entire order was unconstitutional or whether former presidents can claim executive privilege as grounds for withholding documents.

Spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said the White House was reviewing the opinion and considering its options.

Some historians and researchers said the executive order delayed access to historical documents. The National Security Archive, a private group advocating public disclosure of government secrets, is awaiting the release of records that are being reviewed by former President Reagan’s representatives. The average delay caused by a former president’s review is nearly six months.

“The court is enforcing procedural standards, but has avoided the hard questions about the role former presidents, former vice presidents, and their heirs can play when it comes to disclosure of presidential records,” said Meredith Fuchs, the counsel for the National Security Archive. “Unless the executive order is reversed or withdrawn, decisions about the release of records from this administration may ultimately be made by the Bush daughters.”

Public Citizen filed the lawsuit on behalf of itself, the American Historical Association, the National Security Archive, the Organization of American Historians, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Political Science Association and historian Stanley Kutler.

A bill (H.R. 1255) that would overturn the executive order passed the House in March and is pending in the Senate.


Previous
White House OKs release of more Reagan papers
Bush administration agrees to make public 23,653 pages of former president's records, plus 844 pages from his vice president, George Bush. 06.17.02

Related

Lawsuit challenges Bush presidential-papers order

Plaintiffs ask court to void plan, allow immediate release of Reagan documents. 11.29.01

Some Reagan papers released
Still under wraps are 60,000 pages of former president's papers along with tens of thousands of records from his vice president, George Bush. 01.04.02

House passes open-government bills
Measures involve FOIA, libraries, presidential records, whistleblower protection. 03.15.07

Bush presidency: accent on secrecy, panelists say
By Eugenia Harris 1966 FOIA law 'hasn’t been completely integrated and accepted by the federal government,' says Meredith Fuchs, National Security Archive. 03.16.07

Bill Clinton says he's trying to speed release of White House papers
Sen. Hillary Clinton was quizzed during last week’s Democratic presidential debate as to why certain correspondence hasn’t been released by National Archives. 11.05.07

Lawsuit seeks Hillary Clinton's health-care task force records
Judicial Watch claims National Archives has failed to make documents available or to indicate when access will be allowed. 11.06.07

Hillary Clinton White House records move toward release
But several steps, time for review remain before her daily schedules as first lady can be made public, National Archives says. 01.31.08

Archives seeks to delay releasing Hillary Clinton task-force records
Officials ask federal judge to dismiss or postpone any ruling in Judicial Watch lawsuit, saying group is trying to jump ahead of those who made earlier FOIA requests. 02.01.08

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print


Last system update: Thursday, August 21, 2008 | 22:44:01
 SEARCH  MORE
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
Video/RSS/podcasts
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment
reports

First Reports
Supreme Court
Experts
Columnists
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Glossary
Freedom Sings™
Events
First Amendment
Schools

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment
Library

Lesson plans
freedomforum.org
Newseum
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links