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Richard Nixon v. A. Ernest Fitzgerald

    Brief Fact Summary. A cost-management expert for the Air Force was fired after he testified in front of Congress about cost overruns in certain military projects. The Defendant, the President of the United States Richard Nixon (Defendant), claimed that he made the firing decision.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The President of the United States (President) is shielded by absolute immunity from civil damages for acts done in his official capacity as President.

    Facts. The Plaintiff, Ernest Fitzgerald (Plaintiff), was fired from his job with the Air Force as cost-management analyst because he embarrassed his superiors by testifying about certain cost-overruns. The Air Force said he was fired because of reorganization and a reduction in force. An internal memo was passed through White House staff saying the Plaintiff was a “top notch cost expert” but with “very low marks of loyalty” and recommended that they “let him bleed.” At a press conference, the Defendant said he personally made the decision to fire the Plaintiff. The White House later retracted the statement saying that the Defendant had confused the Plaintiff with another employee. The Plaintiff brought suit and the Defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground of absolute immunity from suit.

    Issue. Does the President have absolute immunity from suit for actions taken in his official capacity?

    Held. Yes, the President is immune from suit from his official acts as a matter of public policy rooted in the structure of government mandated by the separation of power principle. This immunity stems from the President’s unique position in the constitution scheme and the immense importance of his duties. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) is worried about diverting the President’s energies to the concerns related to private lawsuits.

    Dissent. Justice Byron White (J. White) felt that this decision places the President above the law.

    Discussion. The President must be empowered with the maximum ability to deal fearlessly and impartially with the duties of his office. If not, his visibility would subject him to numerous suits for civil damages. To keep the public safe, there is the constitutional remedy of impeachment, vigilant oversight by Congress and the press.


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