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United States v. Nixon

Ruled that presidents cannot withhold information from a grand jury proceeding. United States v. Nixon is the Supreme Court’s major ruling on the matter of executive privilege. The privilege would allow the president to refuse legislative or judicial requests for information. This case arose out of the Watergate scandal and the additional legislative and judicial inquiries into the matter. In addition to the investigations made by the Ervin Committee in the senate and the house Judiciary Committee in its impeachment role, information was collected by a special prosecutor Leon Jaworski , who was appointed by the justice department. Lean got a hold of some recordings and white house conversations to enable the prosecution. The accused were reinforced by Judge John Sirica. He dined the claim, and the Supreme Court upheld Judge Sirica’s ruling against the claimed privileges because of the absence of Justice Rehniquist.

The opinion of the court was made by Chief Justice Burger. The discussion of executive privilege began with consideration of an absolute privilege. Nixon and his layers tried to ensure full and free discussion between the president and his advisers. Nixon also tried to assert the absolute privilege on separation of power grounds. The court rejected their arguments, but allowed “absolute, unqualified” presidential privilege, only if the president could show a need to protect military or a national security secret. The court didn’t want to give the president absolute privilege because it would interfere with the courts discharge of their constitutional functions. If the court allowed privileges to prevail, the ends of criminal justice would be defeated because the very integrity of the judicial system depends on full disclosure of all evidence. To allow the president to withhold evidence from a criminal prosecution would only cut into the guardue process of law, and impair the basic function of the court.


United States v. Nixon severely limited the presidential claim to executive privilege. Executive privilege is not an expressed power, and its status as an implied power had been uncertain prior to this decision. The purpose for the privilege is that presidents must be able to engage in unrestricted discussions with advisers when considering policy options. In addition, active national security interests might be adjusted by compelled disclosure of information. United States v. Nixon acknowledges that privileges should extend to certain information. At the same time, the Nixon case determined that the demands of the criminal justice process must take precedence. The limited view of executive privilege also prevailed when Court considered the matter of presidential records and documents. Following the surrender of president Nixon, Congress enacted a statute requiring screening of all Nixon presidential materials, except those judged privet or personal. The remainder were to be retained by the government and finally open to the public. Nixon claimed executive privilege, but the Court rejected the claim in Nixon v. Administrations of General Services. By rejecting claims to absolute privilege, those decisions of the Court remarkably confined the circumstances under which executive privilege can be used by a president.

Gregg v. Georgia

Examined whether the death penalty was a cruel and unusual punishment. Many states legislatures responded to Furman v. Georgia by revising their capital punishment statutes to structure sentencer discretion. In three cases, Gregg v. Georgia, Proffitt v. Florida, and Jurek v. Texas, the Supreme Court up held statutes as revised by Georgia, Florida, and Texas. The Court said the death penalty included in the revised statutes does not always violate the Constitution. Justice Potter Stewart said that the Court may not require the legislature to select the least severe penalty possible as long as the penalty selected is not the cruelly inhumane. He found society willing to endorse the death penalty, since 35 states had provided for the death penalty after Furman. Justice Stewart viewed capital punishment as an expression of society’s moral outrage at particularly offensive behavior. The Court also considered whether death was an executive penalty in itself. It was said the it is an extreme acceptance, suitable to the most extreme crimes. The Court’s opinion was that the sentencer discretion had been enough structured in the state statutes. Justices Marshall and Brennan challenged. Both suggested that capital punishment was constitutionally offensive under any circumstances. Justice Marshall argued that a punishment may be executive, and therefor cruel and unusual, even though there may be public support of it. He found the majority’s ideas about retribution as a basis for punishment to be the most disturbing aspect of the Gregg decision


Gregg v. Georgia clarified several central issues regarding capital punishment. First, the Court held that death is a constitutionally acceptable penalty for murder, given certain conditions. Second, Gregg acknowledged that retribution can serve as a suitable basis for legislative decision regarding penal policy. And third, Gregg determined that structuring sentencer discretion through the definition of aggravation and mitigating circumstances fully corrected the problems cited in Furman v. Georgia. Gregg focused on the special character of the death penalty . It is different then any other punishment. Gregg reveals the Court’s preference for leaving for implementation of capital punishment to the guided discretion of judges and juries. The position taken by the Court in Gregg, Proffitt, and Jurek established the foundation for current judicial policy regarding the death penalty

New York Times, Inc v. United states

New York Times, Inc v. United States dissolved an injunction against the New York Times restraining publication of the Pentagon Papers. The Pentagon Papers cases examined the question of whether a prior restraint upon publication may be warranted if national security is threatened. The New York Times and the Washington Post had come into possession of copies of Defense Department document detailing the history of American Involvement in the Vietnam War. After failing to prevent publication by direct request to the newspapers, the Nixon Administrations sough injunctions in federal court against the two papers to stop publication of the documents on national security grounds. The Espionage Act of 1917 was cited specifically. An injunction was obtained against the Times, but not against the Post. The Supreme Court determined that injunction restrains against either paper were unwarranted in a 6 – 3 decision. In a brief opinion, the Court said that there is a heavy assumption against prior restraint and the heavy burden had not been carried in these cases. The case went into individual opinions. Some of the Justices said that the prior restraints were a violation of the first Amendment because it didn’t allow freedom of the press. Others said that prior restraints might be possible in the most extreme circumstances , but it was said that none existed. The majority focused on the absence of statutory authority for federal courts to issue injunctions such as those sough by the government. The Court didn’t mention anything about the National Security being at risk, and suggested for the criminal process to be dismissed


The New York Times v. United States case represented an important free process challenge. The Supreme Court decision was expected to provide a absolute statement on when prior restraint might constitutionally be imposed, but the decision did not produce such a absolute ruling . The Court’s judgement actually centered on the fairly narrow issue of whether the government had sufficiently demonstrated that immediate and irreparable harm would result from publication of the documents. While the Times prevailed, the various opinions did not constitute a strong ruling for freedom of the press. The criminal prosecution of Daniel Ellsberg, who had given the copies of the document to the Times and the Post in the first place, was dismissed. Thus the Court was precluded from another opportunity to consider the free press issues contained in the Pentagon Papers complication. Similarly, an attempt to prevent publication of an article in The Progressive about the manufacture of a hydrogen bomb was resolved prior to the matter reaching the Supreme Court.







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