Why was the Supreme Court Case "U.S. vs. Nixon" important in defining the powers of the branches of government?
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Richard M. Nixon was a landmark case in U.S. constitutional history and in the history of American jurisprudence. Following the indictment by federal grand juries of seven senior members of the administration of then-President Richard M. Nixon, and the demand by prosecutors for the tapes surreptitiously made by the president of conversations he had in the Oval Office, the president refused to hand over the tapes, citing "executive privilege" as the legal basis upon which he would refuse to cooperate with the judicial branch of government. In United States v. Nixon, the Supreme Court, on July 24,1974, rejected the notion that the Executive Branch of government could be immune from the legitimate demands of another branch of government, in this case the Judiciary. While recognizing that the concept of executive privilege was legitimate within certain carefully proscribed boundaries, mainly those involving national security and foreign affairs, the Court rejected Nixon's argument that executive privilege could extend to domestic political matters. As the Court's decision stated:
"Neither the doctrine of separation of powers nor the generalized need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances"
In short, the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Nixon reaffirmed the Founders' intent with regard to the separation of powers between branches of government.
This case was important because it did much to define the power of the president to claim executive privilege. The Court rejected Nixon's expansive claim of executive privilege in this case. It ruled that the president is not immune from having to comply with orders from courts.
In this case, Nixon had been ordered to turn over tapes that he had made of conversations regarding the Watergate investigation. He refused, saying the president was immune from having to comply with such orders. The Court ruled unanimously that he was not immune.
This did a great deal to establish the idea that the president is required to obey orders from the courts just like everyone else.
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