Vice Presidential Records

Although the focus in the US general presidential election is usually on the presidential nominees, this election has provided a unique focus on the vice president.  Last night’s vice-presidential debate focused mainly on the differences between their presidential running mates.  One question towards the end, however, discussed the unique position of Vice President Dick Cheney’s approach to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) – his contention that the vice president is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch.  This distinction is so crucial because it has a direct impact on the retention of records of the vice president. In the beginning of September, a DC watchdog group known as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed suit in federal court challenging the OVP’s decision not to comply with the Presidential Records Act (PRA).  About two weeks ago, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued a preliminary injunction preserving all relevant records pending the outcome of the CREW lawsuit.

The Presidential Records Act essentially makes the non-personal records (as they relate to constitutional, statutory, or official ceremonial duties) of  the President of the United States property subject to preservation, and it also applies to the records of a vice president in the same manner as those of a president.  Executive Order 13,233 issued by President Bush stated that the PRA applied to the executive records of the OVP.  The OVP has said that it will not and does not have to comply with the PRA, along with other acts, because it does not reside in the executive branch of our government.

David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and former counsel to the vice president, has told Congress that “the vice president belongs neither to the executive nor to the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter.”  This attachment, the OVP argues, exempts it from preserving its records.  In response to the CREW lawsuit, the OVP said that it will preserve records that relate to the Vice President’s duties as President of the Senate or that relate to duties specifically assigned to him by the executive power of the President.

The injunction by Judge Kollar-Kotelly by no means guarantees the ultimate preservation of records, but it seems be at least a positive step forward in ensuring that historians will have access to a more complete record of the activities of the OVP in the future.  In fact, on Wednesday, the OVP moved for a stay of discovery.

Senator Joe Biden essentially said last night that the OVP belongs to the executive branch and that any extension of that notion is a legal fiction that just cannot be sustained.  Governor Sarah Palin implied that she will read the Constitutional role of the OVP in the way that best suits America.  Her statements seem to suggest that she will continue to advocate the position taken by the current OVP, which would exempt that office from the Presidential Records Act.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user smata2.

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Published in: on October 3, 2008 at 4:50 pm Comments Off on Vice Presidential Records

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