Sunday, December 22, 2013

United States v. Nixon case brief

United States v. Nixon case brief summary
418 U.S. 683 (1974)

Cross-petitions were granted for immediate review of the denial of a motion to quash a third-party subpoena duces tecum issued by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 17(c), directing the President of the United States to produce certain tape recordings and documents relating to his conversations with aides and advisers.

The President of the United States invoked executive privilege to avoid compliance with a third-party subpoena duces tecum that required the production of tape recordings and documents. A special prosecutor sought to obtain information concerning meetings between the President and certain individuals charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and other offenses. The President's motion to quash the subpoena was denied, and cross-petitions for immediate review were granted.


  • Holding that the President's general privilege of confidentiality did not extend to an absolute privilege of immunity from all judicial process, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the motion to quash. 
  • Issues relating to the production of documents in a pending criminal case were justiciable and were properly heard on interlocutory appeal in a case involving the President. 
  • Because the special prosecutor had demonstrated a specific need for the evidence sought by way of subpoena and had complied with the requirements of Fed. R. Crim. P. 17(c), it was proper to compel production and to examine the material in camera. 
  • The legitimate needs of the judicial process outweighed executive privilege.

The court affirmed the denial of the motion to quash the subpoena because the President of the United States did not have an absolute, unqualified privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances. Assertion of the general privilege of confidentiality could not prevail over a demonstrated, specific need for evidence in a pending criminal case.

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