RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Office of Walter Nixon, Souther District Court of MS
DOCKET NO.: 91-740
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
CITATION: 506 US 224 (1993)
ARGUED: Oct 14, 1992
DECIDED: Jan 13, 1993
David Overlock Stewart - Argued the cause for the petitioner
David O. Stewart - for petitioner
Kenneth W. Starr - Argued the cause for the respondents
Facts of the case
Walter Nixon, a Federal District Judge, was convicted of a felony, making false statements to a grand jury. The House of Representatives voted three articles of impeachment; impeachment in the Senate followed. In accordance with Senate Rule XI, a Senate committee heard the evidence and reported its findings. The full Senate convicted Nixon and sought to remove him from office. Nixon challenged Senate Rule XI in federal court on the ground that the rule violated the impeachment clause of the Constitution, which declares that "the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments." The lower courts deemed the issue nonjusticiable and declined to intervene in the dispute.
Is Nixon's claim -- that Senate Rule XI violates the Impeachment Trial Clause -- justiciable, i.e., appropriate for judicial resolution?
Media for Nixon v. United StatesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 14, 1992 in Nixon v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 13, 1993 in Nixon v. United States
William H. Rehnquist:
I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 91-740, Nixon against the United States.
Petitioner Walter L. Nixon, a former United States District Judge was convicted by jury of making false statements before a Federal Grand Jury and he was sentenced to prison.
As a result of this conviction, the House of Representatives adopted articles of impeachment charging Nixon with giving false testimony before the Grand Jury and were bringing disrepute on the Federal Judiciary.
Thereafter the Senate invokes its own Rule XI under which the presiding officer appoints a committee of Senators to receive evidence and take testimony.
After conducting four days of hearings the committee presented the full Senate with a complete transcript of the proceeding and a report which stated uncontested facts and summarized the evidence.
The Senate voted by more than the constitutionally required two thirds majority to convict Nixon on the first two articles of impeachment.
Nixon then filed the present lawsuit charging that Senate Rule XI violates the constitutional grant of authority to the Senate to try all impeachments because it prohibits the whole Senate from taking part of the evidentiary proceeding.
The District Court held that Nixon's claim was nonjusticiable and the Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia Circuit agreed.
In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we affirm the Court of Appeals and hold that Nixon's claim is nonjusticiable.
A controversy is notjusticiable when there is a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to coordinate political department or a lack of judicially manageable standards for resolving it.
As our opinion makes clear these two concepts are not completely separate.
The language and structure of the Impeachment Trial Clause, which comes from Article I Section 3 Clause 6 of the Constitution supports this conclusion.
That clause reads "the Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments".
When sitting for that purpose they shall be an author affirmation.
When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside, and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present.
The first sentence is a grant of authority to the Senate and the presence of the word "sole" indicates that this authority is reposed in the Senate and nowhere else.
We reject Nixon's argument that the word "try" in the first sentence requires the Senate to conduct a judicial type trial.
The word "try" both in 1787 and today has considerably broader meanings than those to which petitioner would limit it.
Our conclusion that the Impeachment Trial Clause lacks sufficient precision to afford any judicially manageable standard of review is fortified by the existence of the three very specific requirements which the clause does impose.
Members must be under oath, two-thirds vote is required to convict, and when the President was tried the Chief Justice presides.
In addition to the textual commitment, we are persuaded that the lack of finality and the difficulty of fashioning relief counsel against justiciability.
Judicial review of the procedures used by the Senate in trying impeachments would expose the political life of the country to months or perhaps years of uncertainty particularly if the president were tried.
So we hold that the word "try" in the Impeachment Clause does not provide an identifiable textual limit on the authority which is committed to the Senate.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore affirmed.
Justice Stevens has filed the concurring opinion; Justice White has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which Justice Blackmun has joined; Justice Souter has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.