Nixon v. Fitzgerald
|Nixon v. Fitzgerald|
|Argued November 30, 1981
Decided June 24, 1982
|Full case name||Richard Nixon v. A. Ernest Fitzgerald|
|Citations||457 U.S. 731 (more)
102 S. Ct. 2690; 73 L. Ed. 2d 349; 1982 U.S. LEXIS 42; 50 U.S.L.W. 4797
|Prior history||Cert. to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit|
|The President is entitled to absolute immunity from liability for damages based on his official acts.|
|Majority||Powell, joined by Burger, Rehnquist, Stevens, O'Connor|
|Dissent||White, joined by Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun|
|Dissent||Blackmun, joined by Brennan, Marshall|
Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 731 (1982), was a Supreme Court of the United States court case that dealt with immunity from suit of government officials performing discretionary functions when their action did not violate clearly established law.
A. Ernest Fitzgerald filed a lawsuit against government officials claiming that he lost his position as a contractor with the United States Air Force because of testimony made before Congress in the 1970s. Among the people listed in the lawsuit was former President Richard Nixon. Nixon argued that a president cannot be sued for actions taken while in office. The trial and appellate court rejected the President's claim of immunity and the case went to the Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the President is entitled to absolute immunity from liability for civil damages based on his official acts. The court emphasized that the President is not immune from criminal charges stemming from his official (or unofficial) acts while in office.
The court noted that a grant of absolute immunity to the President would not leave the President with unfettered power. The Court stated that there were formal and informal checks on presidential action that did not apply with equal force to other executive officials. The court observed that the President was subjected to constant scrutiny by the press. It noted that vigilant oversight by Congress would also serve to deter presidential abuses of office, as well as to make credible the threat of impeachment. The court determined that other incentives to avoid misconduct existed, including a desire to earn reelection, the need to maintain prestige as an element of presidential influence, and a President's traditional concern for his historical stature.
This decision was clarified by Clinton v. Jones, in which the Court held that a President is subject to civil suits for actions committed before he assumes the presidency.