Clinton v. Jones

Clinton v. Jones Case Brief

Supreme Court of the United States

520 U.S. 681 (1997)
ISSUE: Is the President entitled to temporary immunity from private damages suits in the form of postponement of the litigation until after he leaves office if the underlying alleged conduct occurred before the President was elected?
HOLDING: No.
FACTS:
  • P was working at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, AR where the then-Governor Clinton was delivering a speech
  • Former AR P/O then persuaded her to leave her reception desk and go D's room, where he made abhorrent sexual advances that she vehemently rejected
  • Superiors at work then dealt with her in a hostile, rude manner
  • P/O defamed her by making a statement to a reporter that implied she had accepted D's alleged overtures, and various persons authorized to speak for the President called her a liar
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • P brought suit against Ds under 1983, 1985, for IIED, and for defamation
  • D advised the Dist. Ct. that he intended to file a motion to dismiss on grounds of Presidential immunity
  • D argues on appeal that the Constitution affords the President temporary immunity from civil damages litigation arising out of events that occurred before he took office
REASONING:
  • No such temp. immunity: D's principal submission that the Constitution affords the President temporary immunity from civil damages litigation arising out of events that occurred before he took office cannot be sustained on the basis of precedent
    • Principal rationale for affording certain public servants immunity from suits for money damages arising out of their official acts is inapplicable to unofficial conduct
    • Never suggested that the President has an immunity that extends beyond the scope of any action taken in an official capacity
  • Not historical support: With respect to acts taken in his "public character," the President may be disciplined principally by impeachment, but he is otherwise subject to the laws for his purely private acts
  • No postponement: Doctrine of separation of powers does not require federal courts to stay all private actions against the President until he leaves office
    • Sitting Presidents have responded to court orders to provide testimony and other information with sufficient frequency that such interactions between the Judicial and Executive Branches cannot be seen as a novelty
    • Settled law that separation of powers does not bar every exercise of jurisdiction over the President of the United States
CONCURRENCE -- Breyer:
  • Constitution creates a constitutional equivalent between a single President on one hand and many legislators or judges on the other
  • Unlike Congress, the President never adjourns
  • Read Story's commentary to mean that Art. II implicitly grants an official inviolability to the President while he is in the discharge of the duties of his office
  • Civil lawsuits could distract a President from his public duties to the detriment of his office and the Nation -- Fitzgerald
  • There is no automatic temporary immunity, and the President should provide the Dist. Ct. with a reasoned explanation of why the immunity is needed

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