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William Jefferson Clinton v. Paula Corbin Jones

Citation. 520 U.S. 681, 117 S. Ct. 1636, 37 L. Ed. 2d 945, 1997 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Defendant, the President of the United States William Clinton (Defendant) was accused of sexually harassing the Plaintiff, Paula Jones (Plaintiff), while he was Governor of Arkansas. The Defendant sought to postpone the proceeding of a civil lawsuit until after he left office.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A sitting President does not enjoy temporary immunity from all civil suits until he has left office.


In 1994, the Plaintiff filed suit against the Defendant regarding sexual advances (in a hotel), which occurred while the Defendant was Governor of Arkansas in 1991. The Defendant was a speaker at the conference and the Plaintiff was a state employee working at the reception desk. The Plaintiff claims she was summoned by a state trooper to the Defendant’s suite where he made sexual advances towards her that she rejected. As a result, her supervisors were hostile and rude to her and her duties were changed to punish her for rejecting those advances. The Plaintiff filed suit seeking actual and punitive damages.


Does the President have immunity from all suits against him while he occupies the office?


No, a sitting President is not immune from suit for unofficial acts. The separation of powers doctrine does not require federal courts to stay all private actions against the president until he leaves office. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) distinguishes this matter from a situation where a public official is sued based on some sort of official action taken. In the latter situation the public official is generally granted immunity. The Defendant’s Separation of Powers argument fails because there is no indication that the judiciary is being asked to perform any function that might in some way be described as executive, or that this decision will curtail the scope of official powers of the Executive Branch. Moreover, the Supreme Court observed that this decision would not result in a deluge of private litigation against sitting presidents.


Although the Defendant claims that in all but the most exceptional cases, the United States Constitution (Constitution) affords the President temporary immunity from civil damages litigation arising out of events that took place before he took office, it is not the case. The Defendant’s argument rests on neither history nor prece

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