United States v. Nixon Case Brief

Facts of the case

A grand jury returned indictments against seven of President Richard Nixon’s closest aides in the Watergate affair. The special prosecutor appointed by Nixon and the defendants sought audio tapes of conversations recorded by Nixon in the Oval Office. Nixon asserted that he was immune from the subpoena claiming executive privilege,which is the right to withhold information from other government branches to preserve confidential communications within the executive branch or to secure the national interest. Decided together with Nixon v. United States.

Why is the case important?

The special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal subpoenaed tape recordings made of President Nixon (the “President”) discussing the scandal with some of his advisers. The President claimed executive privilege as his basis for refusing to turn over the tapes.


Is the President’s Article II constitutional privilege absolute?


The President’s executive privilege is not absolute and must bend to Amendment 4 and Amendment 5 requirements of speedy and fair trials and of the ability of defendants to face their accusers. Courts are not required to proceed against the President as if the President was any other individual. Furthermore, Courts should review communications claimed to be privileged in camera (by the judge only in chambers).


  • Advocates: Leon Jaworski Argued the cause for the United States Philip A. Lacovara Argued the cause for the United States James D. St. Clair Argued the cause for the President
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Richard M. Nixon, et al.
  • DECIDED BY:Burger Court
  • Location: The White House
Citation: 418 US 683 (1974)
Argued: Jul 8, 1974
Decided: Jul 24, 1974
United States v. Nixon Case Brief