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Nixon v. Fitzgerald

The President Above The Law?

The majority opinion in Nixon v. Fitzgerald provoked an especially strong dissent. Justice White, joined by Justice Marshall, Justice Blackmun, and Justice Brennan, attacked the Court's opinion for placing "the President above the law":

A President acting within the outer boundaries of what Presidents normally do may, without liability, deliberately cause serious injury to any number of citizens even though he knows his conduct violates a statute or tramples on the constitutional rights of those who are injured.

Justice Powell anticipated this argument and countered it by listing the many other ways--besides civil lawsuit--that a president may be held accountable for his or her actions. These included impeachment, scrutiny by the press, Congressional oversight, and incentives to avoid misconduct such as the desire to win reelection or secure one's historical reputation.

In a separate case, Harlow and Butterfield v. Fitzgerald (1982), the Court refused to extend the immunity to Nixon's aides, who had carried out his orders to remove Fitzgerald from his position.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Nixon v. Fitzgerald - Significance, The Lower Court Decisions, The Court's Decision, The President Above The Law?