Summary of Nixon v. Fitzgerald
Facts: In 1968, Fitzgerald, a civilian Air Force analyst at the time, testified before Congress about inefficiencies and overspending concerning the production of C-5A transport planes. Almost a year after providing testimony, Fitzgerald was fired from the Air Force. President Nixon claimed responsibility for this action. Consequently, Fitzgerald sued President Nixon for damages once the Civil Service Commission concluded that his dismissal was unjust.
Issue: The legal question at hand was whether Presidents, in this case, President Nixon, was immune from civil suits while serving in office.
Holding: The Court held that President Nixon was in fact immune from civil suits while in office.
Majority Opinion Reasoning: The Court reasoned that the President “is entitled to absolute immunity from damages liability predicated on his official acts.” Justice Powell further argued that this level of immunity was necessary for the President to effectively serve in the office, which is inherently a position predicated on making profoundly difficult decisions. Powell asserted that the “President’s unique office" is “rooted in the constitutional tradition of separation of powers and supported by our history.”
Conclusion: This was an important case because it reaffirmed the President’s power and protection from civil suits. More interestingly, only a few years later, the Supreme Court would find that the President was not immune from cooperating in criminal investigations due to the Watergate Scandal.