1978 November 4

President Jimmy Carter Signs Presidential Records Act


The Presidential Records Act, signed on this day, was the result of a four-year controversy over President Richard Nixon’s presidential papers. Nixon had claimed that his papers were his private property rather than public government documents. The act officially declared that presidential records were the property of the U.S. government. It has since been modified and re-modified by a series of presidential executive orders.

The battle over access to presidents’ official records continued. On November 1, 2001, President George W. Bush issued an executive order that limited access to the papers of past presidents, by allowing them to designate requested papers as confidential. His action was part of the obsessive secrecy of his administration, led primarily by Vice-President Dick Cheney. President Barack Obama reversed that executive order in 2009.

Learn more about the law of presidential records at the National Archives: http://www.archives.gov/about/laws/presidential-records.html

Read the 2014 Congressional Reference Service (CRS) report on the Presidential Records Act and subsequent developments: http://fas.org/sgp/crs/secrecy/R40238.pdf

Learn more about President Jimmy Carter’s civil liberties record: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

Learn more about Carter’s post-presidential work at the Carter Center: http://www.cartercenter.org/index.html

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