Source Material: Nixon's Ghost Haunts the Presidential Records Act: The Reagan and George W. Bush Administrations

By Montgomery, Bruce P. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Source Material: Nixon's Ghost Haunts the Presidential Records Act: The Reagan and George W. Bush Administrations


Montgomery, Bruce P., Presidential Studies Quarterly


On November 1, 2001, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13233, which instituted new barriers to obtaining access to former presidents' White House materials. If left to stand, the executive order would effectively nullify the 1978 Presidential Records Act (PRA) by allowing former presidents, vice presidents, and their heirs to assert independently based claims of executive privilege to control access to White House materials seemingly in perpetuity. The Bush order is similar to a directive issued by the Justice Department under the Reagan administration on behalf of former president Nixon to give him veto power over the release of his alleged privileged White House materials. Both the Bush and Reagan directives are based on virtually identical but highly selective interpretations of the 1977 Supreme Court ruling of Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, in which the former president lost his bid to reclaim ownership over his presidential tapes and records. What is remarkable is that despite his Supreme Court defeat, both the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations resurrected Nixon's archaic, expansive, and rejected claims of the presidential prerogative to justify their own legal and regulatory schemes to subvert the PRA, an act of Congress. In both cases, these attempts appeared to stem from a president's concern over his historical legacy, efforts to reassert executive authority, and an ongoing struggle over the separation of powers during a period of heightened international tension and more restrictive provisions governing public access to government information.

The Bush order is especially notable in containing several curiosities, which appear to stem from a Nixonion view of executive privilege. The order, for example, provides that an incumbent president will defer to a former president's privilege claim barring access to his White House materials unless compelling circumstances favor disclosure. Even if the incumbent president discovers compelling circumstances and disagrees with a former president's privilege claim, the order nevertheless mandates that the National Archives wholly respect the dictates of the former president and keep the materials sealed in contravention of the terms of the PRA. This provision thus provides that sitting presidents abdicate their constitutional responsibilities to uphold the law and to govern the activities and operations of executive branch employees and agencies. In addition, if either a former or sitting president objects to releasing the records, the individual requesting the documents must then bring a court action, a provision that precisely comports with Nixon's arguments in Nixon v. Freeman, in which the former president claimed that a researcher had to show a "particularized need" for access to his Oval Office materials. The order also appears to allow for the creation of a private family dynasty of overseers or censors concerning the history of the U.S. government by extending these same extraordinary executive privileges to former and sitting vice presidents and the designated representatives, relatives, or heirs of presidents and vice presidents.

These novel peculiarities, however contrary to the provisions of the PRA and prior court rulings, are perhaps comprehensible when considering the Bush administration's Nixonesque understanding of executive privilege and the intellectual and judicial history behind the order. It is apparent that former president Nixon's arguments on behalf of executive privilege have resonated considerably within succeeding Republican administrations, starting with the Reagan White House, with the aim of strengthening executive authority and reasserting an absolute and unreviewable controlling interest in their White House materials. It also seems apparent that Republican administrations have never accepted either the legitimacy of the Burger Court's majority opinion in Nixon v. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Source Material: Nixon's Ghost Haunts the Presidential Records Act: The Reagan and George W. Bush Administrations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.