Last Friday, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library released its fifth batch of documents previously restricted under the Presidential Records Act. The Act, signed into law by President Carter in 1978, establishes public ownership of all official records of the President. These records may be obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests beginning five years after the end of the President’s administration. However, the President may bar access to certain records for up to 12 years by invoking any of six restricted categories. The records now being released by the Clinton Library have been withheld under categories P2 (dealing with appointments to federal office) and P5 (dealing with confidential advice between the President and his advisers or between the advisers themselves).
This new batch of documents will be of particular interest to followers of the U.S. Supreme Court. It contains a series of memos advising President Clinton on his first nomination to the Court (following Justice Byron White’s announcement of his retirement in 1993), and discussing the relative merits of the top two candidates: Judge Stephen Breyer and Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As you may recall, Ginsburg ultimately won the nomination and was confirmed by the Senate, but Breyer would soon follow in her footsteps, becoming Clinton’s second Supreme Court appointee the following year, after the retirement of Justice Harry Blackmun.
Want to learn more about the Presidential Records Act? The Congressional Research Service has recently published a very informative paper on the background of the Act and the history of its interpretation. The Act itself is codified at 44 U.S.C. §§ 2201-2207.