Plainly, the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Nixon was a defeat for President Nixon. Yet was it also at least a partial victory for the presidency?

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I think when discussing this question we need to separate the office of the president from the holder of the president, because as you said, it's impossible in any way to consider this decision a victory for Nixon. As Pohnpei397 has already stated, it did affirm the principle of executive...

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I think when discussing this question we need to separate the office of the president from the holder of the president, because as you said, it's impossible in any way to consider this decision a victory for Nixon. As Pohnpei397 has already stated, it did affirm the principle of executive privilege (if not to the degree that Nixon was claiming) and in this it certainly strengthened the presidency as an institution. However, I think one could also argue that this judgment was a victory for the rule of law and for checks and balances. This is important because in the short term, fallout from Watergate did prove toxic to the public trust in its government and institutions. Yet even so, I would ask the question, if the Nixon defense had succeeded, where would the United States as a country have ultimately arrived at, and what would this have meant for the health of its democratic institutions? It's admittedly an impossible question to answer, but at a certain point political legitimacy has to outweigh political expediency. From that perspective, I think an argument could be made that the Court's finding ultimately served the long term interests of the executive branch as well.

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In this case, President Nixon was ordered to hand over the tapes that ensured that he would have to resign as president.  Thus, it clearly was a defeat for him.  However, the case was a partial victory for the Presidency as an institution.  It affirmed the presence of a strong executive privilege that applied in many cases (though not in the case of Nixon’s tapes).

Up until this case, the Supreme Court had never ruled on the idea that presidents had the right to refuse to cooperate with the other branches of government on the basis of executive privilege.  In this case, however, it explicitly asserted that the Presidency did hold such a power, regardless of the fact that it is not clearly given by the Constitution.

What this meant is that the Presidency gained a power that it had not clearly had before.  It gained the power to reject demands from the other branches of government in cases of national security or other areas in which secrecy was necessary.  The Court merely said that Nixon’s case did not appear to fall into either of these categories.

Thus, while President Nixon lost the case, it can be argued that the Presidency won the case because it now had an explicit executive privilege. 

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