United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974)
The special prosecutor, a member of the executive filed for a subpoena to order the defendant and president of the United States, Ricard Nixon, to turn over various documents and tape recordings between him and aids and advisors over the Watergate-scandal . The president, on grounds of executive privilege, filed a motion to quash the subpoena.
At the district court, the court gave an order for an in camera examination of the subpoenaed material. The district court stayed its order pending appellate review which president Nixon sought in the court of appeals.
1. Whether or not the courts have jurisdiction to interfere in a dispute involving the president and the special prosecutor.
2. Whether or not the president’s decision to safeguard the requested information using his executive privilege is immune from judicial review.
Arguments of the Defendant:
1. That the courts lack jurisdiction to issue a subpoena because the dispute was an intra-branch dispute between a subordinate and superior officer of the executive.
1. That the courts have jurisdiction to resolve a dispute involving the president and the special prosecutor.
2. That the president’s decision to safeguard the requested information using his executive privilege is not immune from judicial review.
In a unanimous decision, the court stated that “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.” The court ruled that the dispute between the president and the executive branch was justiciable because the special prosecutor was acting within the scope of his express authority, which is conducting criminal litigation on behalf of the United States, and that the president was also acting on his duty to preserve the confidentiality of the communications of the president. The courts were thus needed to resolve this clash in duties.