The Presidency

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SCOTUS cases related to the president

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The Presidency
1 United States v. Nixon
1.1 Background: A grand jury returned indictments against seven of President Richard Nixon's closest aides in the Watergate affair. The special prosecutor appointed by Nixon and the defendants sought audio tapes of conversations recorded by Nixon in the Oval Office. Nixon asserted that he was immune from the subpoena claiming "executive privilege," which is the right to withhold information from other government branches to preserve confidential communications within the executive branch or to secure the national interest. Decided together with Nixon v. United States.
1.2 Question: Is the President's right to safeguard certain information, using his "executive privilege" confidentiality power, entirely immune from judicial review?
1.3 Conclusion: No. The Court held that neither the doctrine of separation of powers, nor the generalized need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified, presidential privilege. The Court granted that there was a limited executive privilege in areas of military or diplomatic affairs, but gave preference to "the fundamental demands of due process of law in the fair administration of justice." Therefore, the president must obey the subpoena and produce the tapes and documents. Nixon resigned shortly after the release of the tapes.
2 Clinton v. New York City
2.1 Background: This case consolidates two separate challenges to the constitutionality of two cancellations, made by President William J. Clinton, under the Line Item Veto Act ("Act"). In the first, the City of New York, two hospital associations, a hospital, and two health care unions, challenged the President's cancellation of a provision in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 which relinquished the Federal Government's ability to recoup nearly $2.6 billion in taxes levied against Medicaid providers by the State of New York. In the second, the Snake River farmer's cooperative and one of its individual members challenged the President's cancellation of a provision of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. The provision permitted some food refiners and processors to defer recognition of their capital gains in exchange for selling their stock to eligible farmers' cooperatives. After a district court held the Act unconstitutional, the Supreme Court granted certiorari on expedited appeal.
2.2 Question: Did the President's ability to selectively cancel individual portions of bills, under the Line Item Veto Act, violate the Presentment Clause of Article I?
2.3 Conclusion: Yes. In a 6-to-3 decision the Court first established that both the City of New York, and its affiliates, and the farmers' cooperative suffered sufficiently immediate and concrete injuries to sustain their standing to challenge the President's actions. The Court then explained that under the Presentment Clause, legislation that passes both Houses of Congress must either be entirely approved (i.e. signed) or rejected (i.e. vetoed) by the President. The Court held that by canceling only selected portions of the bills at issue, under authority granted him by the Act, the President in effect "amended" the laws before him. Such discretion, the Court concluded, violated the "finely wrought" legislative procedures of Article I as envisioned by the Framers.
3 Clinton v. Jones
3.1 Background: Paula Corbin Jones sued President Bill Clinton. She alleged that while she was an Arkansas state employee, she suffered several "abhorrent" sexual advances from then Arkansas Governor Clinton. Jones claimed that her continued rejection of Clinton's advances ultimately resulted in punishment by her state supervisors. Following a District Court's grant of Clinton's request that all matters relating to the suit be suspended, pending a ruling on his prior request to have the suit dismissed on grounds of presidential immunity, Clinton sought to invoke his immunity to completely dismiss the Jones suit against him. While the District Judge denied Clinton's immunity request, the judge ordered the stay of any trial in the matter until after Clinton's Presidency. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal denial but reversed the trial deferment ruling since it would be a "functional equivalent" to an unlawful grant of temporary presidential immunity.
3.2 Question: Is a serving President, for separation of powers reasons, entitled to absolute immunity from civil litigation arising out of events which transpired prior to his taking office?
3.3 Conclusion: No. In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that the Constitution does not grant a sitting President immunity from civil litigation except under highly unusual circumstances. After noting the great respect and dignity owed to the Executive office, the Court held that neither separation of powers nor the need for confidentiality of high-level information can justify an unqualified Presidential immunity from judicial process. While the independence of our government's branches must be protected under the doctrine of separation of powers, the Constitution does not prohibit these branches from exercising any control over one another. This, the Court added, is true despite the procedural burdens which Article III jurisdiction may impose on the time, attention, and resources of the Chief Executive.
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