(Washington, DC) Richard M. Schmidt is the recipient of the Madison Award, presented by the American Library Association to honor those who have championed, protected, and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know. The award, named for President James Madison, was established in 1986 and is presented annually on the anniversary of his birth.
Richard M. Schmidt, who died in October, 2004, devoted a long and illustrious career to the pursuit of open government and a free press, both of which he considered integral to a flourishing democracy. Throughout that career, which included positions in the legislative and executive branches, he strove to push the government toward greater openness and to change attitudes about access. The range of issues on which he worked is truly impressive, from the 1974 Freedom of Information Act, to the “Official Secrets Act” of 2000, and most recently provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. As impressive is the list of clients whom Schmidt represented in cases fighting for open government: the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Association of American Publishers, the White House Correspondents Association and Knight Ridder are a few of the most notable.
Mr. Schmidt was persistent in resisting the erosion of the First Amendment and in refusing to let others, inside and outside government, accept those erosions. He truly understood James Madison’s admonition that “a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.” [Letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822 ] Mr. Schmidt’s career supported this power for us all.
The American Library Association is proud to honor Mr. Schmidt at the National Freedom of Information Day Conference, sponsored by the First Amendment Center, in cooperation with the American Library Association. “Congress and the Courts: Confronting Secrecy” is the theme of this year’s conference, to be held as usual on James Madison’s birth date, Wednesday, March 16, from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm at the Freedom Forum’s World Center in Arlington, Va. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a forceful advocate for open government since his days as Texas Attorney General, will be the keynote speaker.