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Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc.

435 U.S. 589 (1978)

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Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc.

United States Supreme Court

435 U.S. 589 (1978)

Facts

After the resignation of President Richard Nixon (defendant) following the Watergate scandal, Congress passed the Presidential Recordings and Materials Act (the act). The act established a procedure for collecting and disseminating presidential records specifically connected to Nixon’s resignation. The act required that all relevant materials be placed in federal custody and stated that any materials designated by the government as historically valuable must be preserved, provided for use in judicial proceedings, and eventually released to the public. Testimony during a Senate hearing revealed that Nixon had recorded conversations and meetings in his offices during his presidency. A federal prosecutor subpoenaed tapes of meetings and phone conversations recorded by Nixon for the trial of individuals indicted on Watergate-related charges. The district court reviewed the tapes and made copies of the parts it determined to be relevant and admissible. During the trial, approximately 22 hours of taped conversations were played for the jury and for the public and media present in the courtroom. Transcripts of the tapes were provided to reporters attending the trial and were broadly reprinted. Warner Communications, Inc. (Warner) (plaintiff) moved for permission to copy, broadcast, and sell the tapes played at trial. Nixon opposed the motion. The district court agreed to provide access to the tapes, though not immediately because the individuals convicted at trial had filed notices of appeal, and immediate release could prejudice the individuals’ rights. Further, the public was already aware of the tapes’ contents because of the wide publication of the transcripts. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the district court abused its discretion, and that Nixon was required to prove that the principles of justice demanded limitations on the common-law right to inspect and copy judicial records. Nixon petitioned for and was granted a writ of certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Powell, J.)

Dissent (Stevens, J.)

Dissent (Marshall, J.)

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