The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with several historians and public-interest groups, filed a lawsuit today urging the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to block a presidential order that illegally limits access to records of former presidents.
The lawsuit also demands the immediate release of more than 68,000 documents from the Reagan administration.
The records, which include correspondence between Reagan and his advisors, were due for release on Jan. 20, 2001 — 12 years after Reagan left office. But an executive order from President Bush put the scheduled release of the records on hold indefinitely.
“Journalists, historians, academics and citizens have been waiting anxiously for access to these valuable records,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish. “The president’s unexpected restrictions to the records will make it much more difficult for the public to have a clear understanding of what went on in the White House during the Reagan years. – and subsequent administrations.”
Records from the Reagan White House and from subsequent administrations originally fell under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, a post-Watergate measure that became law after former President Richard Nixon attempted to hold on to his papers and tape recordings as personal property.
The act made presidential records government property. The law mandated that the records become public after 12 years.
But Executive Order 13233, signed on Nov. 1 by President Bush, effectively restores disclosure power of the records to a sitting president and the former president.
National Archivist John Carlin, named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with the National Archives and Records Administration, has declined to release the historic records, saying he would abide by the executive order.
The lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, urges the court to invalidate Executive Order 13233 and order the release of the records.
Attorneys with Public Citizen coordinated the effort on behalf of the Reporters Committee, the American Historical Association, the National Security Archive, the Organization of American Historians and two presidential historians.
A copy of the complaint is available at: https://www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20011128ahavnara.html