Nixon v. Fitzgerald

Facts

Fitzgerald was a pilot in the armed forced who claimed he lost his job as a result of testimony held in Congress.  The President was one of the Defendants named; and the President’s counsel argued that the President could not be sued while in office, essentially claiming that executive privilege was absolute.

Issue

Does the President have “absolute immunity” from law suits while in office?

Holding/Analysis

Yes, held.  While in office, the President cannot be sued due to his unique position.  Where the suit is undertaken by private individuals, the President should not be subject to fear of such litigation.  If any person could bring suit against the President while in office, the President would operate in constant fear of personal suit, which is impractical for the office.  He immunity to suit, therefore, must be absolute.  In rare cases, the Congress may pass an act subjecting the President to personal jurisdiction for a particular sort of lawsuit.  Importantly, the court recognizes that there are previously established parameters that keep the President’s powers in check:  impeachment proceedings, balance of powers, pressure for the press, and re-election.

Dissent

The dissent agrees with absolute immunity to conduct related to the office.  However, the President’s personal conduct outside the scope of his official duties should be subject to personal suit as it is with any other citizen.  Absolute immunity is all conduct put the President above the law beyond what the Constitution intends.

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