Nixon v. Fitzgerald 457 U.S. 731 (1982) Harlow v. Fitzgerald 457 U.S. 800 (1982)

Author:Kenneth L. Karst

Page 1819

In these cases the Supreme Court significantly expanded the scope of EXECUTIVE IMMUNITY in actions for DAMAGES brought by persons injured by official action. Fitzgerald sued former President RICHARD M. NIXON and two of his aides, alleging that he had been dismissed from an Air Force job in retaliation for revealing to a congressional committee a two billion dollar cost overrun for a transport aircraft.

In Nixon the Court held, 5?4, that the President is absolutely immune from civil damages?not merely for the performance of particular functions but for all acts within the "outer perimeter" of his official duties. Justice LEWIS F. POWELL, for the majority, rested his decision not on the text of the Constitution but on "the constitutional tradition of the SEPARATION OF POWERS." Unlike other executive officers, who have only a qualified immunity from damages actions, the President occupies a unique place in the government. He must be able to act without fear of intrusive inquiries into his motives. The dissenters agreed that some of the President's functions should be clothed in absolute immunity, but argued that a qualified immunity from suit was sufficient in most cases to protect presidential independence.

In Harlow the Court, 8?1, rejected the aides' claim of absolute immunity, but...

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