Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc.

RESPONDENT: Warner Communications, Inc.
LOCATION: Channel Islands National Park

DOCKET NO.: 76-944
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 435 US 589 (1978)
ARGUED: Nov 08, 1977
DECIDED: Apr 18, 1978

Edward Bennett Williams - for respondents
Floyd Abrams - for respondents
William H. Jeffress, Jr. - for petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 08, 1977 in Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 18, 1978 in Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in number 76-944, Nixon against Warner Communications will be announced by Mr. Justice Powell.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

The petitioner in this case is former President Nixon.

The respondents are Warner Communications and various broadcasting companies.

The case arose at the trial of seven of petitioner's former advisors.

Introduced into evidence at that trial were some 22 hours of recordings, copies of tapes subpoenaed from petitioner.

Petitioner himself was not a defendant.

The tapes were played for the jury.

The members of the public and press in attendance were furnished with earphones to hear them.

Verbatim transcripts were distributed and received wide spread publicity in the press and otherwise.

Respondent broadcasters filed a motion during the trial, seeking permission to copy, broadcast and sell reproduction of the tapes.

The District Court denied this motion, but the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed.

It held that the District Court should have allowed the tapes to be copied immediately.

We granted certiorari to review this holding.

The parties agree that there is a Common Law Right to inspect and copy judicial records, constituting evidence in a public trial, but the right is not absolute.

A court must exercise a sound discretion as to whether to allow copying of records in its custody.

The parties here have advanced, quite ably and at length, reasons for and against permitting copying of these tapes in addition to the transcripts already released.

I will not detail these arguments in this oral statement as they are set forth fully in our opinion filed today with the clerk.

We do identify one unique factor, a factor we consider to be decisive and one not given adequate consideration by the courts below.

Congress has enacted the Presidential Recordings Act, the validity of which we sustained last term.

This Act directs the Administrator of General Services to take custody of petitioner's presidential tapes and documents.

The administrator must develop and implement a program for releasing these materials to the public, including the tapes.

The Act expressly provides procedures and safeguards designed to accommodate the public interest and also to protect whatever rights private parties, including petitioner maybe able successfully to assert.

We think the existence of this Act makes it inappropriate for a court to release the copies of these tapes at this time.

Congress has prescribed specific procedures for the processing and release of all of President Nixon's records, including the originals of these tapes.

The policies of the Act can best be carried out under the Act itself.

Respondent's allege as independent grounds entitlement to immediate release under the First and Sixth Amendments.

We have held previously that the media has no right to information about a public trial superior to that of the general public.

The public never had been given access to these copies, but both the public and the media have had full access to every word in the portions of these tapes played at the trial both when played and in the written transcripts thereof that were released.

Physical custody of the copies of these tapes always has remained in the custody of the court.

The Watergate trial was a public trial as can be remembered.