• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974, which authorized the General Services Administration (GSA) to take control of former president Richard M. Nixon’s nonprivate presidential papers and to make them available to the public.

Following President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation, Congress enacted the relevant statute in order to protect historically important tapes and papers. Nixon argued that the statute was an unconstitutional bill of attainder because it singled him out for punishment by depriving him of the traditional right of presidents to control their presidential papers. He also asserted that the law violated the separation of powers doctrine as well as his personal rights to privacy. Writing for a 7-2 majority, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.,Brennan, William J., Jr.;Nixon v. Administrator of General Services[Nixon v. Administrator of General Services] reasoned that the law was not a bill of attainder because it was not punitive in either result or intent. Given the circumstances, he found that Congress had sufficient justification to treat Nixon’s public papers differently from those of other presidents. In addition, Brennan reaffirmed a flexible interpretation of the separation of powers doctrine and concluded that the statute contained necessary safeguards allowing Nixon to defend his legal rights.Bill of attainder;Nixon v. Administrator of General Services[Nixon v. Administrator of General Services]Separation of powers;Nixon v. Administrator of General Services[Nixon v. Administrator of General Services]

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Bill of attainder

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