Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974
The Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (“PRMPA”) of 1974, applies only to the Nixon Presidential Materials. The PRMPA was enacted on December 19, 1974 in the wake of the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. The Nixon presidential materials collection contains approximately 4,000 separate recordings of broadcast video, nearly 4,500 audio recordings, 30,000 gifts from foreign heads of states, American citizens, and others, 300,000 still photographs, 2 million feet of film, 46 million pages of documents, and 3,700 hours of recorded presidential conversations (the famous “White House tapes”).
Since 1974, these materials have been maintained by the National Archives under the authority of the PRMPA. The PRMPA stipulates that materials that are relevant to the understanding of Abuse of Governmental Power and Watergate have to be processed and released to the public before the releasing of all other materials. This legislative action was intended to reduce secrecy and at the same time allow historians to accomplish their responsibilities.
The passage of PRMPA resulted in litigation over the Nixon materials. Even though President Nixon and his lawyers filed suit against the government stating that the materials were his property and the processing of his records by the National Archives violated his constitutional rights. However, the Supreme Court upheld PRMPA in 1977. During the subsequent settling of a lawsuit by President Nixon against the federal government, the National Archives released the first tape related to Watergate.
The Public Access Regulations set forth the policies and procedures concerning the preservation and protection of the presidential historical materials. PRMPA constitute the presidential historical materials of former President Nixon and it applies to the collection, control, and release of papers, documents, memoranda, transcripts and other objects or materials of President Nixon.
Congress intended that records be made available under both the Freedom of Information Act and the PRMPA. However, the PRMPA provides exclusive means for gaining access to the materials. There is no common-law right of public access to the records and tapes of former President Nixon, and in case the Freedom of Information Act is not available, a party seeking disclosure of these materials must resort to the procedures under PRMPA.
The National Archives retain the materials related to the Abuse of Governmental Power and the constitutional and statutory duties of the President and his White House staff. PRMPA mandates that the National Archives preserve and process these materials and make them available for public access. The law also states that the National Archives should segregate and return to the estate of former President Nixon the materials which are purely identified as “personal-private” or “personal-political” and those materials which are not related to the President’s constitutional and statutory duties.
In 2004, Congress permitted the Archivist of the United States to transfer Nixon Presidential Materials to an approved Presidential archival depository through an amendment. This paved way for the eventual transfer of a significant amount of the materials.