Case 5-1 William Jefferson Clinton v. Paula Corbin Jones

Question # 00660302 Posted By: mac123 Updated on: 03/12/2018 03:04 AM Due on: 03/12/2018
Subject Law Topic Administrative Law Tutorials:
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Case 5-1 William Jefferson Clinton v. Paula Corbin Jones
Supreme Court of the United States 520 U.S. 681 (1997)
Plaintiff Paula Jones filed a civil action against defendant (sitting) President Bill Clinton, alleging that he made “abhorrent” sexual advances. She sought $75,000 in actual damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.
Defendant Clinton sought to dismiss the claim on the ground of presidential immunity, or, alternatively, to delay the proceedings until his term of office had expired.
The district court denied the motion to dismiss and ordered discovery to proceed, but it also ordered that the trial be stayed until the end of Clinton’s term. The court of appeals affirmed the denial of the motion to dismiss and reversed the stay of the trial. President Clinton appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justice Stevens
Petitioner’s principal submission—that “in all but the most exceptional cases,” the Constitution affords the President temporary immunity from civil damages litigation arising out of events that occurred before he took office—cannot be sustained on the basis of precedent.
Only three sitting presidents have been defendants in civil litigation involving their actions prior to taking office. Complaints against Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman had been dismissed before they took office; the dismissals were affirmed after their respective inaugurations. Two companion cases arising out of an automobile accident were filed against John F. Kennedy in 1960 during the Presidential campaign. After taking office, he unsuccessfully argued that his status as Commander in Chief gave him a right to a stay. The motion for a stay was denied by the District Court, and the matter was settled out of court. Thus, none of those cases sheds any light on the constitutional issue before us.
The principal rationale for affording certain public servants immunity from suits for money damages arising out of their official acts is inapplicable to unofficial conduct. In cases involving prosecutors, legislators, and judges we have repeatedly explained that the immunity serves the public interest in enabling such officials to perform their designated functions effectively without fear that a particular decision may give rise to personal liability.
That rationale provided the principal basis for our holding that a former president of the United States was “entitled to absolute immunity from damages liability predicated on his official acts.” Our central concern was to avoid rendering the President “unduly cautious in the discharge of his official duties.”
This reasoning provides no support for an immunity for unofficial conduct. . . . “[T]he sphere of protected action must be related closely to the immunity’s justifying purposes.” But we have never suggested that the President, or any other official, has an immunity that extends beyond the scope of any action taken in an official capacity.
Moreover, when defining the scope of an immunity for acts clearly taken within an official capacity, we have applied a functional approach. “Frequently our decisions have held that an official’s absolute immunity should extend only to acts in performance of particular functions of his office.” Petitioner’s strongest argument supporting his immunity claim is based on the text and structure of the Constitution. The President argues for a postponement of the judicial proceedings that will determine whether he violated any law. His argument is grounded in the character of the office that was created by Article II of the Constitution and relies on separation-of-powers principles.
As a starting premise, petitioner contends that he occupies a unique office with powers and responsibilities so vast and important that the public interest demands that he devote his undivided time and attention to his public duties. He submits that—given the nature of the office—the doctrine of separation of powers places limits on the authority of the Federal Judiciary to interfere with the Executive Branch that would be transgressed by allowing this action to proceed.
We have no dispute with the initial premise of the argument. We have long recognized the “unique position in the constitutional scheme” that this office occupies.
It does not follow, however, that separation-of-powers principles would be violated by allowing this action to proceed. The doctrine of separation of powers is concerned with the allocation of official power among the three coequal branches of our Government. The Framers “built into the tripartite Federal Government . . . a self-executing safeguard against the encroachment or aggrandizement of one branch at the expense of the other.” Thus, for example, the Congress may not exercise the judicial power to revise final judgments, or the executive power to manage an airport.
. . . [I]n this case there is no suggestion that the Federal Judiciary is being asked to perform any function that might in some way be described as “executive.” Respondent is merely asking the courts to exercise their core Article III jurisdiction to decide cases and controversies. Whatever the outcome of this case, there is no possibility that the decision will curtail the scope of the official powers of the Executive Branch. The litigation of questions that relate entirely to the unofficial conduct of the individual who happens to be the President poses no perceptible risk of misallocation of either judicial power or executive power.
Rather than arguing that the decision of the case will produce either an aggrandizement of judicial power or a narrowing of executive power, petitioner contends that—as a by-product of an otherwise traditional exercise of judicial power—burdens will be placed on the President that will hamper the performance of his official duties. We have recognized that “[e]ven when a branch does not arrogate power to itself . . . the separation-of-powers doctrine requires that a branch not impair another in the performance of its constitutional duties.” As a factual matter, petitioner contends that this particular case—as well as the potential additional litigation that an affirmance of the Court of Appeals judgment might spawn—may impose an unacceptable burden on the President’s time and energy and thereby impair the effective performance of his office.
Petitioner’s predictive judgment finds little support in either history or the relatively narrow compass of the issues raised in this particular case. If the past is any indicator, it seems unlikely that a deluge of such litigation will ever engulf the presidency. As for the case at hand, if properly managed by the District Court, it appears to us highly unlikely to occupy any substantial amount of petitioner’s time.
Of greater significance, petitioner errs by presuming that interactions between the Judicial Branch and the Executive, even quite burdensome interactions, necessarily rise to the level of constitutionally forbidden impairment of the Executive’s ability to perform its constitutionally mandated functions. Separation of powers does not mean that the branches “ought to have no partial agency in, or no control over the acts of each other.” The fact that a federal court’s exercise of its traditional Article III jurisdiction may significantly burden the time and attention of the Chief Executive is not sufficient to establish a violation of the Constitution. Two long-settled propositions . . . support that conclusion.
First, we have long held that when the President takes official action, the Court has the authority to determine whether he has acted within the law. Perhaps the most dramatic example of such a case is our holding that President Truman exceeded his constitutional authority when he issued an order directing the Secretary of Commerce to take possession of and operate most of the Nation’s steel mills, in order to avert a national catastrophe.1
1 Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952).
Second, it is also settled that the President is subject to judicial process in appropriate circumstances. We . . . held that President Nixon was obligated to comply with a subpoena commanding him to produce certain tape recordings of his conversations with his aides. As we explained, “neither the doctrine of separation of powers, nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances.”
Sitting Presidents have responded to court orders to provide testimony and other information with sufficient frequency that such interactions between the Judicial and Executive Branches can scarcely be thought a novelty. President Ford complied with an order to give a deposition in a criminal trial, and President Clinton has twice given videotaped testimony in criminal proceedings.
“[I]t is settled law that the separation-of-powers doctrine does not bar every exercise of jurisdiction over the President of the United States.” If the Judiciary may severely burden the Executive Branch by reviewing the legality of the President’s official conduct, and if it may direct appropriate process to the President himself, it must follow that the federal courts have power to determine the legality of his unofficial conduct. The burden on the President’s time and energy that is a mere by-product of such review surely cannot be considered as onerous as the direct burden imposed by judicial review and the occasional invalidation of his official actions. We therefore hold that the doctrine of separation of powers does not require federal courts to stay all private actions against the President until he leaves office.*
* William Jefferson Clinton v. Paula Corbin Jones, Supreme Court of the United States 520 U.S. 681 (1997).
Reversed in part. Affirmed in part in favor of Respondent, Jones.
After this case was sent back for trial on the merits, the case was ultimately dismissed on April 1, 1998, on a motion for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff’s allegations, even if true, failed to state a claim of criminal sexual assault or sexual harassment. It is ironic that despite the high court’s claim that the case would be “highly unlikely to occupy any substantial amount of the petitioner’s time,” matters arising out of this case managed to occupy so much of the president’s time and become such a focus of a media frenzy that many people were calling for the media to reduce coverage of the issues so the president could do his job.2
2 Jones v. Clinton and Danny Ferguson, 12 F. Supp. 2d 931 (E.D. Ark. 1998).
Linking Law and Business Finance
The principle behind the separation of powers in government is also modeled in another realm of business. In your accounting class, you learned that internal controls are the policies and procedures used to create a greater assurance that the objectives of an organization will be met. One feature of internal controls is the separation of duties. This feature calls for the functions of authorization, recording, and custody to be exercised by different individuals. The likelihood of illegal acts by employees is reduced when the responsibility of completing a task is dependent on more than one person. If there are three people responsible for carrying out a particular task, then each person acts as a deterrent to the other two in regard to the possibility of embezzlement by one or more employees. Therefore, the chance of dishonest behavior is minimized when employees act as a check on the other employees involved in striving to meet organizational objectives.

Exhibit 5-2 System of Checks and Balances
Cases like Jones v. Clinton are not common. The reason is not that each branch generally operates carefully within its own sphere of power. Rather, the explanation lies in the fact that because it is difficult to determine where one branch’s authority ends and another’s begins, each branch rarely challenges the power of its competing branches. The powers of each branch were established so that, although the branches are separate and independent, each branch still influences the actions of the others and there is still a substantial amount of interaction among them. You can review this system by examining Exhibit 5-2.

• The assignment should consist of a Word Document . It should include a summary of the relevant facts, the law, judicial opinion and answer the case questions. All that is necessary for an understanding of the case is important and required.
• The report must go beyond the discussion of the problem posed in the textbook, to achieve a superior grade. Do research outside the textbook- this must include research outside the case citation such as the Lexus-Nexis in the DeVry Library or, do research on the parties and circumstances of the case itself and incorporate some visual modality as a part of the case analysis.something about one of the parties, as well as some background contained in the legal opinion. Doing significant research outside the textbook is essential.
• Utilize the case format below.

Case Analysis Format
1. Read and understand the case or question assigned. Show your Analysis and Reasoning and make it clear you understand the material. Be sure to incorporate the concepts of the chapter we are studying to show your reasoning. Dedicate at least one heading to each following outline topic:
Parties [Identify the plaintiff and the defendant]
Facts [Summarize only those facts critical to the outcome of the case]
Procedure [Who brought the appeal? What was the outcome in the lower court(s)?]
Issue [Note the central question or questions on which the case turns]
Explain the applicable law(s). Use the textbook here. The law should come from the same chapter as the case. Be sure to use citations from the textbook including page numbers.
Holding [How did the court resolve the issue(s)? Who won?]
Reasoning [Explain the logic that supported the court's decision]
2. Do significant research outside of the book and demonstrate that you have in a very obvious way. This refers to research beyond the legal research. This involves something about the parties or other interesting related area. Show something you have discovered about the case, parties or other important element from your own research. Be sure this is obvious and adds value beyond the legal reasoning of the case.
3. Dedicate 1 heading to each of the case question(s) immediately following the case, if there are any. Be sure to restate and fully answer the questions.
4. Quality in terms of substance, form, grammar and context. Be entertaining! Use excellent visual material!
5. Wrap up with a Conclusion. This should summarize the key aspects of the decision and also your recommendations on the court's ruling.
6. Include citations and a reference page with your sources. Use APA style citations and references.

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