Publication Date

May 1, 2004

Court Issues Decision on Presidential Records Suit

In November 2001, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order (EO) 13233 that purported to "further implement" the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978. Because of concerns derived from the Bush administration’s effort to delay the release of some of Ronald Reagan’s presidential records, a coalition of scholars, historical and archival associations, and organizations seeking a more transparent government filed suit in federal court contending that the EO was an impermissible exercise of executive power. For nearly three years the suit languished in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. On March 28, 2004, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly rendered her decision and dismissed the plaintiff’s suit, contending that "it is not justiciable at this juncture."

In making her decision, the judge did not pass judgment on the merits of the case. She held that the claim was no longer justiciable because the Reagan documents that were the subject of litigation had been released (with the exception of 11 documents totaling 74 pages, which were, according to her, being "properly withheld" under President Bush’s decision "to assert constitutionally based privilege in concurrence with former President Reagan") and because there were no other presidential records subject to dispute.

According to the Public Citizen Litigation Group’s Scott Nelson, the attorney handling the case, the plaintiffs have 60 days in which to appeal, and a shorter amount of time to request an amendment to the judgment. Since there may be a number of errors in the interpretation of fact in the ruling, and because 74 pages are still being withheld by the Bush administration and, in fact, are under "administrative appeal," the suit may still be justiciable. A decision on whether to challenge the judge’s ruling will need to be made by the plaintiffs in coming weeks.

Thanks to the Federation of American Scientists, the ruling by Judge Kollar-Kotelly may be accessed at:

Historian Appointed at Department of Homeland Security

In March 2004, the 180,000-employee Department of Homeland Security (DHS) celebrated its first anniversary as a federal agency. There to document the event was Priscilla Dale Jones, the department’s recently appointed historian. Her office is believed to be the only congressionally sanctioned office of history in the federal government.

Jones comes to the position with an MA in history from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and a PhD from Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge. Her academic interests include modern Europe and Holocaust studies; her dissertation focused on the evolution of British war-crime policy, 1939–58.

Jones was selected for the historian position in part because of her strong background in oral history and also because of her experience in history-related contract administration. Prior to her appointment with the DHS she ran the oral history program at the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, which, at the time, was associated with Florida International University. More recently, she was a historian with the Air Force History Office where for a decade she assisted in the editing of the journal,Air Power History, and managed various history-related contracts.

Among the first tasks she hopes to tackle is to make contact with the broad community of federal historians and see how other departmental and agency history offices are organized and operate, and also to develop a strategic plan for her office.

— is director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached

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