- Is a serving President, for separation of powers reasons, entitled to absolute immunity from civil litigation arising out of events which transpired prior to his taking office? No. In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that the Constitution does not grant a sitting President immunity from civil litigation except under highly unusual circumstances. After noting the great respect and dignity owed to the Executive office, the Court held that neither separation of powers nor the need for confidentiality of high-level information can justify an unqualified Presidential immunity from judicial process. While the independence of our government's branches must be protected under the doctrine of separation of powers, the Constitution does not prohibit these branches from exercising any control over one another. This, the Court added, is true despite the procedural burdens which Article III jurisdiction may impose on the time, attention, and resources of the Chief Executive.
U.S. v. Nixon, 1974
Rumsfeld v. Bush, 2001
Clinton v. Jones, 1997
- A New York state law gave two individuals the exclusive right to operate steamboats on waters within state jurisdiction. Laws like this one were duplicated elsewhere which led to friction as some states would require foreign (out-of-state) boats to pay substantial fees for navigation privileges. In this case a steamboat owner who did business between New York and New Jersey challenged the monopoly that New York had granted, which forced him to obtain a special operating permit from the state to navigate on its waters. Did the State of New York exercise authority in a realm reserved exclusively to Congress, namely, the regulation of interstate commerce? The Court found that New York's licensing requirement for out-of-state operators was inconsistent with a congressional act regulating the coasting trade. The New York law was invalid by virtue of the Supremacy Clause. In his opinion, Chief Justice Marshall developed a clear definition of the word commerce, which included navigation on interstate waterways. He also gave meaning to the phrase "among the several states" in the Commerce Clause. Marshall's was one of the earliest and most influential opinions concerning this important clause. He concluded that regulation of navigation by steamboat operators and others for purposes of conducting interstate commerce was a power reserved to and exercised by the Congress.
Gibbons v. Ogden, 1824
Slidell v. Washington, 1841
Marbury v. Madison, 1803
- President Hoover appointed, and the Senate confirmed, Humphrey as a commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In 1933, President Roosevelt asked for Humphrey's resignation since the latter was a conservative and had jurisdiction over many of Roosevelt's New Deal policies. When Humphrey refused to resign, Roosevelt fired him because of his policy positions. However, the FTC Act only allowed a president to remove a commissioner for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office." Since Humphrey died shortly after being dismissed, his executor sued to recover Humphrey's lost salary. Did section 1 of the Federal Trade Commission Act unconstitutionally interfere with the executive power of the President? The unanimous Court found that the FTC Act was constitutional and that Humphrey's dismissal on policy grounds was unjustified. The Court reasoned that the Constitution had never given "illimitable power of removal" to the president. Justice Sutherland dismissed the government's main line of defense in this case which relied heavily on the Court's decision in Meyers v. United States (1926). In that case the Court upheld the president's right to remove officers who were "units of the executive department." The FTC was different, argued Sutherland, because it was a body created by Congress to perform quasi-legislative and judicial functions. The Meyers precedent, therefore, did not apply in this situation.
Humphreys v. Hoover, 1930
Federal Trade Commission v. Humphreys, 1932
Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 1935
- The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Bill) required "local chief law enforcement officers" (CLEOs) to perform background-checks on prospective handgun purchasers, until such time as the Attorney General establishes a federal system for this purpose. Two county sheriffs separately challenged the constitutionality of this interim provision of the Brady Bill on behalf of law enforcement officials in Montana and Arizona respectively. In both cases District Courts found the background-checks unconstitutional, but ruled that since this requirement was severable from the rest of the Brady Bill a voluntary background-check system could remain. On appeal from the Ninth Circuit's ruling that the interim background-check provisions were constitutional, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and consolidated the two cases deciding this one along with Mack v. United States. Using the Necessary and Proper Clause of Article I as justification, can Congress temporarily require state CLEOs to regulate handgun purchases by performing those duties called for by the Brady Bill's handgun applicant background-checks? No. The Court constructed its opinion on the old principle that state legislatures are not subject to federal direction. The Court explained that while Congress may require the federal government to regulate commerce directly, in this case by performing background-checks on applicants for handgun ownership, the Necessary and Proper Clause does not empower it to compel state CLEOs to fulfill its federal tasks for it - even temporarily. The Court added that the Brady Bill could not require CLEOs to perform the related tasks of disposing of handgun-application forms or notifying certain applicants of the reasons for their refusal in writing, since the Brady Bill reserved such duties only for those law enforcement officials who voluntarily accepted them.
Printz v. United States, 1997
Second Amendment Coalition v. Clinton, 1995
NRA v. Brady, 1990
- A grand jury returned indictments against seven of President Richard Nixon's closest aides in the Watergate affair. The special prosecutor appointed by Nixon and the defendants sought audio tapes of conversations recorded by Nixon in the Oval Office. Nixon asserted that he was immune from the subpoena claiming "executive privilege," which is the right to withhold information from other government branches to preserve confidential communications within the executive branch or to secure the national interest. Is the President's right to safeguard certain information, using his "executive privilege" confidentiality power, entirely immune from judicial review? No. The Court held that neither the doctrine of separation of powers, nor the generalized need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified, presidential privilege. The Court granted that there was a limited executive privilege in areas of military or diplomatic affairs, but gave preference to "the fundamental demands of due process of law in the fair administration of justice." Therefore, the president must obey the subpoena and produce the tapes and documents. Nixon resigned shortly after the release of the tapes.
Nixon v. Congressional Powers Act, 1975
United States v. Nixon, 1974
United States v. Administration, 1972
- The case began on March 2, 1801, when an obscure Federalist, William Marbury, was designated as a justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. Marbury and several others were appointed to government posts created by Congress in the last days of John Adams's presidency, but these last-minute appointments were never fully finalized. The disgruntled appointees invoked an act of Congress and sued for their jobs in the Supreme Court. Is Marbury entitled to his appointment? Is his lawsuit the correct way to get it? And, is the Supreme Court the place for Marbury to get the relief he requests? Yes; yes; and it depends. The justices held, through Marshall's forceful argument, that on the last issue the Constitution was "the fundamental and paramount law of the nation" and that "an act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void." In other words, when the Constitution--the nation's highest law--conflicts with an act of the legislature, that act is invalid. This case establishes the Supreme Court's power of judicial review.
Marbury v. Jefferson, 1806
Marbury v. Madison, 1803
Madison v. Jefferson, 1801
- On November 3, 1992, Arkansas voters adopted Amendment 73 to their State Constitution. The "Term Limitation Amendment," in addition to limiting terms of elected officials within the Arkansas state government, also provided that any person who served three or more terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Arkansas would be ineligible for re-election as a US Representative from Arkansas. Similarly, the Amendment provided that any person who served two or more terms as a member of the United States Senate from Arkansas would be ineligible for re-election as a US Senator from Arkansas. Can states alter those qualifications for the U.S. Congress that are specifically enumerated in the Constitution? No. The Constitution prohibits States from adopting Congressional qualifications in addition to those enumerated in the Constitution. A state congressional term limits amendment is unconstitutional if it has the likely effect of handicapping a class of candidates and "has the sole purpose of creating additional qualifications indirectly." Furthermore, "...allowing individual States to craft their own congressional qualifications would erode the structure designed by the Framers to form a 'more perfect Union.'"
United States v. Arkansas Voter League, 1999
Arkansas v. United States, 1994
U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, 1995
- In 1816, Congress chartered The Second Bank of the United States. In 1818, the state of Maryland passed legislation to impose taxes on the bank. James W. McCulloch, the cashier of the Baltimore branch of the bank, refused to pay the tax. The case presented two questions: Did Congress have the authority to establish the bank? Did the Maryland law unconstitutionally interfere with congressional powers? In a unanimous decision, the Court held that Congress had the power to incorporate the bank and that Maryland could not tax instruments of the national government employed in the execution of constitutional powers. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Marshall noted that Congress possessed unenumerated powers not explicitly outlined in the Constitution. Marshall also held that while the states retained the power of taxation, "the constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof are supreme. . .they control the constitution and laws of the respective states, and cannot be controlled by them."
Marshall v. McCulloch, 1822
United States v. Maryland, 1815
McCulloch v. Maryland, 1819