U.S. v. Nixon Case Brief

Summary of U.S. v. Nixon
418 U.S. 683 [1974]

Presidential Immunities:

Relevant Facts: A grand jury returned indictments against several White House staff members, and members of the Committee for the re-election of the President, for numerous offenses. The President was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. The Special Prosecutor issued a subpoena duces tecum to the President for tapes, memoranda, papers, transcripts, or other writings of meetings between himself and the others.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the factual items at issue are protected from judicial review by separation of powers as a Presidential privilege?

Court’s Holding: No

Procedure: Review of a D. Ct. denial of motion to quash subpoena duces tecum directing the President to produce certain audio tape recordings, and documents. President appealed the rejection to Ct. App. Affrimed

Law or Rule(s): A2 separation of powers; a privilege is derived from the supremacy of each branch within its own assigned area of constitutional duties. Certain powers and privileges flow from the nature of enumerated powers.

Court Rationale: When a privilege depends soley on the broad, undifferentiated claim of public interest in the confidentiality of such conversations, a confrontation of other values arises. Absent a need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive nations secrets, a very important interest in confidentiality of Presidential communications is significantly diminished by production of such material for in camera inspection. To assert such a privilege would upset the Constitutional balance of a workable government and gravely impair the role of the courts under A3. To ensure that justice is done, it is imperative to the function of courts that compulsory process be available for the production of evidence needed either by the prosecution or by the defense.

Plaintiff’s Argument: (U.S.) Legitimate needs of judicial process in a criminal proceeding outweighs generic communications of the President.

Defendant’s Argument: (President) Confidential conversations between a President and his advisors are protected from judicial review under the separation of powers.

Marbury v Madison – it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.


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