The United States v. Nixon was a historic United States Supreme Court decision. The Court resulted in a unanimous 8’0 ruling against President Richard Nixon and was important to the later stages of the Watergate affair.
It is considered a crucial precedent limiting the power of any US president. Having this major political affair happen right before a presidential election and have the public believe the break in was being thoroughly investigated. The petitioner was the United States and the respondent was Nixon. There was an official of eight Supreme Court Justices that came up with the decision if the President had an absolute power and what is known as above the law. Or if that Nixon had an excutive power but that it was not absolute.
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger wrote the opinion for a majority court, joined by Justices William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan, Potter Stewart, Byron White, Thur good Marshall, Harry Blackmun and Lewis F. Powell. Burger, Blackmun and Powell were appointed to the Court by Nixon during his first term ( Law Junk.org). Associate Justice William Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee, saved himself as he had previously served in the Nixon administration as Assistant Attorney General (Law Junk.org).
The Watergate scandal began during the 1972 Presidential campaign between Democratic Senator George McGovern of South Dakota and President Walter Nixon ( United States Courts.gov). On June 17, 1972, about five months before the general election, five burglars that were part of Nixon’s campaign broke into Democratic headquarters located in the Watergate building complex in Washington, D.C to have it bugged with tape recorders (Silberdick 10).
In May 1973, Nixon’s Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, appointed Archibald Cox to the position of special prosecutor, charged with investigating the break-in ( Oyez.com). During the month of October of 1973, Nixon arranged to have Cox fired in the Saturday Night Massacre that also caused other representatives of Nixon’s cabinet members to retire (Silberdick 87). Nixon took control of the cover up and was trying to stop the Watergate scandal from being discovered. The public outrage forced Nixon to appoint a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, who was put in charged with conducting the Watergate investigation for the government (Landmark Cases.org).
In April 1974, Jaworski obtained a subpoena ordering Nixon to release certain papers and tapes related to important meetings between President Nixon and those indicted by the grand jury ( Landmark Cases.org). The tapes and conversations they revealed were believed to contain damaging evidence involving the indicted men and perhaps even the President himself (Landmark Cases.org).
Hoping Jaworski and the public would be satisfied, President Nixon turned over edited transcripts of forty-three conversations, including portions of twenty conversations demanded by the subpoena and the tapes were missing an eighteen and a half minute gap ( United States Courts.gov). James D. St. Clair, Nixon’s attorney, then requested Judge John Sirica of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to motion the subpoena ( United States Courts.gov). While arguing before judge Sirica, St. Clair stated that:
‘The President wants me to argue that he is as powerful a monarch as Louis XIV, only four years at a time, and is not subject to the processes of any court in the land except the court of impeachment (United States Courts.org).’
Judge Sirica denied Walter Nixon’s motion and ordered the President to turn the tapes over by May 31 1973. Both Nixon and Jaworski appealed directly to the Supreme Court which heard arguments on July 8 1974 ( Law Junk.org). Nixon’s attorney argued the matter should not be subject to “judicial resolution” since the matter was a dispute within the executive branch and the branch should resolve the dispute itself (Law Junk.org). Also, he claimed Special Prosecutor Jaworski had not proven that the requested materials were absolutely necessary for the trial of the five men ( Oyez.com). James Clair claimed Nixon had an absolute executive privilege to protect communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in carrying out their duties ( United States Courts.gov). Less than three weeks after oral arguments, the Court issued what its decision was ( Law Junk.org). The justices struggled to write an opinion that all eight could agree to. The stakes were so high, in that the tapes most likely contained evidence of criminal wrongdoing by President Nixon and his men, that they wanted no dissent ( Landmark Cases.org). All contributed to the opinion and Chief Justice Burger delivered the majority decision ( Landmark Cases.org). After ruling that the Court could indeed resolve the matter and that Jaworski had proven a “sufficient likelihood that each of the tapes contains conversations relevant to the offenses charged in the indictment,” the Court went to the main issue of executive privilege (Silberdick 137). ‘The Supreme Court held that having the doctrine of separation of powers nor the generalized need for confidentially of high level communications, without more can sustain an absolute, unqualified, presidential privilege (Oyez.com).’ The Court rejected Walter Nixon’s claim to an “absolute power’, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances (Landmark Cases.org).” Chief Justice Burger wrote that the President can have a constitutionally protected executive privilege just that the privilege could not be absolute ( United States.gov). Having the Supreme Court decide that in the case the President’s interest in keeping his communications secret was outweighed by the interests of the judiciary in providing and keeping a fair trial ( United States.gov). Nixon resigned sixteen days later, on August 9, 1974. Becoming the first ever president to retire from office (United States Courts.gov). Unlike other political scandals Watergate was unique since it was the first time a chief executive retired from office. Having Walter M. Nixon resigned because of having the threat of being impeached for abusing his presidential powers. The Watergate affair is how Nixon’s men tried to cover up their part in a break in attempted at the National Committee headquarters then the president went and took charge of the cover up known as the Saturday Night Massucare and end up trapping himself in the involvement of Watergate. The political scandal became a full blown congressional probe which exposed cover up and wide spread corruption at the highest levels of the government. What started off as an attempt of five burgarlers to break into Watergate ends with the United States President forced to resign or be impeached brought a huge landmark case in the United States Supreme Court. The lesson to be learned from the Watergate affair and the cover up is that Americans have to set a climate of opinion and have a moral standard which clearly what to expect of the officeholders. If people are willing to take the burglary at a political committee headquarters and just regard the break in as a prank or a mere campaign caper, then Americans will get what is deserved. The responsibility of what kind of government ultimately rests in America’s hands