Law School Case Brief
Nixon v. Adm'r of Gen. Servs. - 433 U.S. 425, 97 S. Ct. 2777 (1977)
One element of privacy is characterized as the individual interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters. When Government intervention is at stake, public officials, including the President, are not wholly without constitutionally protected privacy rights in matters of personal life unrelated to any acts done by them in their public capacity.
The day after President Ford signed the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act into law, former President Nixon instituted an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, invoking its exclusive jurisdiction under the Act to entertain actions challenging the Act's constitutionality. The Act provides, in general, that the Administrator of General Services shall take custody of former President Nixon's papers and tape recordings, and shall promulgate regulations for public access to such materials (not yet effective), subject to screening of the materials by government archivists to return private papers to Nixon. A three-judge District Court held that the Act's provisions for taking custody of Mr. Nixon's Presidential materials, and for screening of the materials by government archivists, did not violate (1) separation of powers principles, (2) the Presidential privilege of confidentiality, (3) Nixon's privacy or First Amendment rights, or (4) the bill of attainder clause of the Constitution (Art I, 9, cl 3).
Was the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act facially constitutional?
The Court affirmed the order of the district court and limited the review to the consideration of injunctive relief against the facial unconstitutionality of the Act. The Court determined that the Act did not violate the separation of powers because nothing in the Act rendered it unduly disruptive of the Executive Branch. The Act did not violate the Presidential privilege doctrine. The Act did not unconstitutionally invade Nixon’s right of privacy as purely private information was to be returned to Nixon. The Act did not significantly interfere with or chill Nixon’s First Amendment rights. Further, the Act did not violate the Bill of Attainder Clause because the Act did not rest upon a congressional determination of Nixon’s blameworthiness and desire to punish him.
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