A grand jury returned indictments against seven of President Nixon’s White House staff members and political supporters of the President for violation of federal statutes in the Watergate affair,. The President on the other hand was named as an un-indicted co-conspirator. The Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski filed a motion under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure - Rule 17 for a subpoena duces tecum, a court summons ordering the President to appear before the court and produce tapes, documents and other tangible evidence relating to precisely identified conversations and meeting between President Nixon and his aides.
The District Court initially treated the subpoena material as presumptively privileged, but then concluded that the Special Prosecutor made sufficient showing to justify a subpoena for production before trial. The District Court then issued an order for an in camera examination of the subpoenaed material, rejecting President Nixon’s contentions that the judiciary lacked authority to review his assertion of absolute executive privileged and the dispute between him and the Special Prosecutor was nonjusticiable as an “intra-executive” conflict.
PROCEDURAL HISTORY The District Court of the District of Columbia issued an order for in camera assessment of subpoena material consequently rejecting President Nixon’s arguments. President Nixon then sought appellate review in the Court of Appeals. The Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski subsequently filed a writ of certiorari and President Nixon filed a cross-petition for a writ challenging the grand jury.
The U. S Supreme Court granted both petitions. ISSUES Under the laws of the constitution, can the President of the United States, upon his non-indictment for conspiracy which violates federal law, invoke absolute executive privilege that interferes with a District Court order directing him to produce certain tape recordings and documents relating to his conversations with aides and advisers? RULES 1.
Article II Section 2: He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments 2.
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure - Rule 17 (c): A subpoena may order the witness to produce any books, papers, documents, data, or other objects the subpoena designates. The court may direct the witness to produce the designated items in court before trial or before they are to be offered in evidence. When the items arrive, the court may permit the parties and their attorneys to inspect all or part of them. 3.
Fifth Amendment: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
4. Sixth Amendment: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense. ANALYSIS The Supreme Court proceeded in determining a resolution to the case by acknowledging and evaluating the presented arguments of both parties.
They began with assessing the argument by President Nixon’s counsel that the dispute between the President and the Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski was an intra-branch dispute between a subordinate and superior officer of the Executive Branch and is not subjected to judicial resolution. Based on that claim, the Supreme Court introduced the regulations of the Authority of Article II, Section 2 and indicated that under those regulations Congress has vested in the Attorney General the power to conduct the criminal litigations of the United States Government. Along with that, the Attorney General also has the power to appoint subordinate officers to assist him in the discharge of his duties.
For cases such as this and in conformation of the statutes, the Attorney General delegated authority to Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski to represent the United States. Based on the governing statutes and the delegation of authority, the Supreme Court agreed that the Special Prosecutor was indeed acting within the scope of his express authority. They also included that the fact that both parties are officers of the Executive Branch could not be viewed as an avoidance of justifiability and would however be inconsistent with applicable laws and regulations. As a result of that, the Supreme Court’s concluded that the Special Prosecutor has standing to bring action and that a justifiable disagreement had been presented for decision.
The second argument the Supreme Court reviewed was the way in which the evidence was sought, by determining whether the issuance of the subpoena duces tecum in the federal criminal proceeding was in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure -Rule 17 (c). The Supreme Court concluded that the Special Prosecutor satisfied the requirements by ensuring that production of the evidence sought displayed relevancy, admissibility, and specificity to the criminal case. Along with that, the Supreme Court agreed that there was sufficient likelihood that each of the tapes contained conversations relevant to the offenses charged in the indictment.
Finally the Supreme Court evaluated the argument by President Nixon’s counsel, of immunization from the subpoena on the basis of absolute executive privilege. The Supreme Court weighed the importance of general privilege of confidentiality of Presidential communication and took into account that the basis for the claim of privilege was not on the grounds of military or diplomatic secrets. In the absence of a claim of military, diplomatic or sensitive national security secrets, the Supreme Court rejected the argument of confidentiality of Presidential communication, stating that the allowance of the privilege to withhold evidence that proves relevant in a criminal trial would cut deeply into the guarantee of due process of the law depicted in the Fifth Amendment.
Along with that the Sixth Amendment confers upon every defendant in a criminal trial the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him” and “to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor. Therefore full disclosure of the facts is essential to the carrying out justice of the Sixth Amendment right to face adversaries. The Supreme Court concluded that when the grounds for asserting privilege against the production of subpoenaed material sought for the use in a criminal proceeding is based on a general interest in confidentially, the claim of privilege must yield to the specific need for evidence. CONCLUSION The Supreme Court justices exerted strenuous effort to agree upon a decision in this case.
Their efforts resulted with a unanimous 8 to 0 ruling, ordering President Nixon to comply with the subpoena and produces the tapes and documentation to use as evidence in the trial court. In regards to the claims of absolute executive privilege the Supreme took into account that the President’s communications and activities encompass a wide range of sensitive material and is therefore entitled him deference. However since the basis for asserting privilege was not related to important military or diplomatic secrets affecting national security, the need to ensure a fair trial outweighed the principle of executive privilege. Ultimately the Supreme Court’s final ruling gave preference to the fundamental demands of due process of the law in the fair administration of justice.
My opinion is that the President refused to turn over the evidence because it contained relevant facts that would indicate his involvement; therefore invoking a right to privilege of confidentiality was a way in which to avoid an order that could possibly reveal information that could convict him as well. However despite the President great dissent for the ruling, once he exercise the order by the Supreme Court to produce the relevant evidence, the content undoubtedly revealed the President participation in the Watergate scandal. As a result of this President Nixon resigned from office in effort to avoid impeachment, becoming the first President of the United Stated to ever resign his position.