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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Jan. 14, 1997)
Supreme Court hears Paula Jones case
By Richard Carelli
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court
aggressively questioned both sides Monday in
a battle over the sexuaHiarassment lawsuit
against President Clinton,
about judges managing a
president’s time yet leery
of having him appear
above the law.
The justices gave
little indication whether
they will let Paula Jones’
lawsuit go forward while
Clinton is in office. The
was argued just one week before Clinton’s sec
A decision, which also could affect future
presidents, is expected by July.
The hour-long argument did not address the
merits of Jones’ allegation that Clinton propo
sitioned her in a Little Rock hotel room in 1991
when he was governor of Arkansas. Clinton
has denied her allegation and has said he can
not recall ever meeting the former Arkansas
Instead, lawyers debated whether any part
of the case can proceed during the next four
We see presidents riding
on horseback, chopping
firewood... playing golf
and so forth. ...The
notion that he doesn’t
have a minute to spare is
Justice Antonin Scalia
years. The court never before has been asked
to decide if a sitting president can be sued over
acts unrelated to his job, whether they took place
before or during his term.
The justices sounded skeptical about argu
ments from both sides.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said allowing
judges to decide whether a president is too busy
to be entangled in litigation may be too intru
sive, and “argues strongly for the absolute privi
lege that (Clinton’s lawyers) are suggesting.”
Justice Antonin Scalia, although saying he
was also concerned about giving trial judges
too much authority over a president, voiced
doubts about fashioning a blanket rule.
“We see presidents riding on horseback,
chopping firewood... playing golf and so forth.
... The notion that he doesn’t have a minute to
spare is not credible,” Scalia said.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, meanwhile,
worried aloud about delaying litigation for some
future president sued for child custody or be
cause land he owns “is boiling up with poi
Robert Bennett, Clinton’s lawyer, told the
justices that if presidents can be sued while in
office “any county or state judge could virtu
ally destroy the power of the presidency.”
He added, “We’ll give Ms. Jones her day in
court, but let’s not do it now.”
When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked
whether any of the 50 states offer a governor
temporary immunity, Bennett had to concede,
“We have found none ”
Acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger,
the JusticeDepartment’s top-ranking courtroom
lawyer, agreed with Bennett and urged the court
not to “enmesh federal and state courts in a
politically-charged task” of managing the
Lawyer Gil Davis, representing Jones, said
Clinton’s argument “confuses the office of the
presidency with the person who holds that of
Referring to Clinton as a “citizen who holds
We’ll give Ms. Jones her
day in court, but let’s not
. do it now. ”
President Clinton’s lawyer
the office of president of the United States,”
Davis said Clinton “has the same rights and
responsibilities as all other citizens.”
A president should be given a postponement
only if there is “an actual, imminent interfer
ence with his job,” Davis said.
But the argument soon became bogged down
when he was asked by several justices how trial
judges are to determine whether such a threat
The Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that presi
dents cannot be sued for damages involving
their official duties, even after they leave of
fice. The prospect of such lawsuits could harm
a president’s decision-making, the court said.
But when Bennett invoked the 1982 ruling,
Rehnquist told him, “I don’t see how that ele
ment is present here.”
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The Daily Nebraskan (USPS 144-080)
is published by the UNL Publications
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