President Nixon refused to comply, arguing executive privilege.
At issue: Does the President’s inherent right to safeguard certain information make him entirely immune to judicial review? President Nixon (through his counsel, James St. Clair) argued that the special prosecutor, functioning as an employee of the Department of Justice, made any request for White House audiotapes an internal matter to be resolved within the Executive Branch. In sum, the Judicial Branch was overstepping its Constitutional authority by intervening in the matter. Special prosecutor Leon Jaworski argued that the audiotapes in question almost certainly contained direct evidence of a criminal conspiracy, to wit, to commit obstruction of justice.
Procedural history: Special prosecutor Jaworski secured a subpoena in Federal District Court (Judge John Sirica, presiding) requiring White House compliance with demands to surrender certain audiotapes, in April 1974, requiring the White House to surrender the tapes no later than May 31. The White House refused to comply. Both Jaworski and St. Clair (the President’s counsel) concurred in requesting the Supreme Court hear the appeal from the Sirica decision—‘certiorari before judgment,’ a procedure allowing the matter to proceed directly to the Supreme Court without an intervening hearing and decision rendered by the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit—which motion was granted. The Court heard arguments on July 8 and delivered its unanimous opinion on July 24, 1974.
3 The law: There was not specific statute at issue. However, certain language in the Constitution appears relevant. That document makes no reference to executive privilege, although it privileges Members of Congress in matters relating to debate (Art. I, sec. 6). Article II (the Presidency), provides, inter alia, that “The