Harlow v. Fitzgerald


Two aides to the President were sued in a private civil matter for activities undertaken while in their positions.  The suit stated that the two aides conspired while in their official capacity as aides to the President.  The aides claimed at trial that they could not be sued while in their official positions due to executive immunity doctrine.  Lower courts did not acknowledge the aides’ claim of immunity.


Whether the aides to a President are privy to the executive immunity doctrine if sued for actions undertaken in their official positions.


Yes, remanded.  Absolute immunity is granted for a variety of public officials because the threat of private lawsuit threatens their ability to properly undertake their jobs.  In the case of certain categories of public officials, the court grants only partial immunity.  Lower level staff with less discretion in terms of policy making should not be able to claim absoluteimmunity.  The court argued that a claim of absolute immunity by a member of the executive staff can only hold up if it relates to their official duties handling foreign affairs or national security.  The instant case regards domestic policy issues.  However, lower courts did not address the issue of qualified immunity, which can be interpreted or construed as a good faith defense – namely that the aides were acting good faith in their official positions, seeking to serve the public good.


Presidential immunity should extend to all aides of the President because they act as his right arm or “alter egos.”  Just as the President should not fear suit while in office, the same principals should apply to legal aides.

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