The Law School Authority

Nixon v. United States Case Brief

Summary of Nixon v. United States (1993)

Relevant Facts: Nixon, Chief Justice, U.S. District Ct. Mississippi, was convicted by a jury of two counts of making false statement before a federal grand jury and sentenced to prison.  The Senate initiated a committee in line with Rule XI, and the Senate heard testimony, queried each of the parties, and voted by over two-thirds to convict, thereby removing Nixon of his judicial seat.

Petitioner argues the word “try” imposes that the Senate trial must be as a judicial trial.  Respondent argues there is no identifiable limit on the word, and therefore is not a political question.

Issue: Under constitutional law, is Senate Rule XI, which allows a committee to hear evidence in a judicial impeachment trial to the full Senate, which then reports its findings to the whole Senate for a two-thirds vote constitutional?

Holding: Yes.  It is not a claim the Court can address; it is a PQ.

Court's Rationale/Reasoning: The Court examined  Art. I, section 3, clause 6 to determine the scope of authority conferred upon the Senate in impeachment proceedings.  It focused on 2 terms, “sole” and “try.”  Sole in the context of the Constitution, means the Senate has the only authority on this matter.  Try in the context of the document is given much broader deference by the Court.  Try means, of some things presented, “to examine,” “to investigate.”

In the context of the first sentence of the clause, “try” is very broad as to the standard of review in such a case.  All there is, is the 2/3 vote requirement, and Chief Justice presides when the President is on trial.

“Sole” is interesting as well.  The word is used only one other time in the document, that in mentioning the House's sole power of impeachment.  Since nothing else in the text lends itself to another meaning, the Court takes from the document that sole means all power in impeachment hearings go to the Senate.  Additionally, neither party offers a scintilla of argument as to judicial review precedent in relation to the word “sole” in clause 6.

In an originalist take, the Court reasons that the Framers likely wanted Senate power over impeachments for the following reasons: (1) the Senate was the most fit depositary of this trust, (2) the Framers didn't know if the members of the Court had the “onions” to take care of business should they have to, (3) if they had to do the original trial, they might also have to hear the criminal portion in addition to the impeachment proceeding.

The second focus the Court took is that judicial review on a judicial official by the Court might not be consistent with the checks and balances held so essential to the government.  There are 2 checks on Congress: (1) House accuses, Senate tries impeachments; (2) two-thirds super majority vote.  Additionally, this policy of judiciary judicial review could affect other branches' officers.

Last, this is comparable to Powell, b/c of the qualifications argument.  The House in Powell was in charge of the qualifications of its own members, which is why the Court bowed out of the debate.  The same situation exists here, which is why the Court will bow of the argument when Art. 1, section 3, clause 6 lays out the game plan.

Rule: Excerpt from Art. I, section 3, cl. 6: “The Senate shall have sole Power to try all Impeachments.”

Important Dicta:  N/A.

Concurring: (Justices White & Blackmun):  Questions the Court's bowing out the argument on the basis of the meaning of the word “sole.”  If the Court gets involved in situations where the legislature is involved in other situations, this is inconsistent.

Article I confers “all legislative powers” to Congress.  Does this mean there is no review of any of its legislation?  Framers didn't want to lay all the power in one branch, which is why they separated it up between the three branches.


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