United States v. Nixon

418 U.S. 683 (1974)


Facts: The United States District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a subpoena duces tecum for Nixon’s Oval Office tapes.  Nixon moved to quash the subpoena.  Nixon asserted absolute executive privilege.


Issue: Does the separation of powers doctrine preclude judicial review of a President’s claim of privilege?  If not, does the presidential privilege outweigh the subpoena?




Analysis: Absolute privilege on the part of the executive branch couldn’t have been what the framers had in mind, the Court reasons, because an absolute privilege on the part of one branch would place unacceptable limitations on the other branches.  It seems like they would be more sympathetic to the claim of privilege if Nixon provided a specific basis for it, such as “national security”.


Conclusion: Nixon loses!


Back to Casebook Notes