The respondent, a private citizen, seeks to recover damages from the current occupant of the Office of the President based on actions taken before his term began. The President claims that the Constitution requires federal courts to defer such litigation until his term ends and that respect for the office warrants such a stay.
The Constitution does not automatically grant the President an immunity from civil lawsuits based upon his private conduct.
Petitioner, William Jefferson Clinton, was elected to the Presidency in 1992 and re-elected in 1996. In 1991, he was the Governor of the State of Arkansas. On 1994, the respondent commenced this action by filing a complaint naming petitioner as a defendant. The respondent alleged that Clinton while he was the Governor made abhorrent sexual advances which she rejected. She also said that Clinton dealt with her in a hostile and rude manner and changed her duties to punish her for rejecting those advances. The alleged misconduct was unrelated to any of his official duties as President of the U.S and occurred before he was elected to the office.
Does the Constitution protect the President from judicial proceedings while he is in office for the alleged misconduct that occurred before he became the President?
No, the President is not immune from judicial proceedings while he is in office for the alleged misconduct that occurred before he became the President, because putting the President in a trial does not severely burden the time and attention of the Executive Branch so as to violate the Constitution.
While the majority correctly stated that the separation of powers principle does not require federal courts to stay all private actions against the President until he leaves office, once the President sets forth and explains a conflict between judicial proceeding and public duties, the Constitution permits a judge to schedule a trial in an ordinary civil lawsuit only within the constraints of a constitutional principle that forbids a federal judge to interfere with the President’s discharge of his public duties.
It is settled law that separation of powers principle does not bar every exercise of jurisdiction over the President. If the Court may severely burden the executive branch by reviewing the legality of the President’s official conduct, then the federal courts have the power to determine the legality of his unofficial conduct. The burden on the President’s time and energy that is a mere byproduct of such review cannot be considered as onerous as direct burden imposed by judicial review. Thus, the separation of powers principle does not require federal courts to stay all private actions against the President until he leaves the office.