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Take A Stand
Paula Jones' Day In Court Draws Nearer - Jan. 8, 1997
Supreme Court Will Hear Clinton's Harassment Appeal - June 12, 1996
Legal Brief Stirs Up President's Critics - May 22, 1996
Clinton's Lawyers Seek To Delay Paula Jones' Lawsuit - May 15, 1996
Jones' Lawsuit Can Go Forward - March 29, 1996
Will The Paula Jones Case Be Postponed?
The Supreme Court hears Clinton's arguments for delaying the suit
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 13) -- Supreme Court Justices vigorously challenged arguments by attorneys for both President Bill Clinton and Paula Jones on whether the sexual harassment suit filed by Jones should be postponed until the president leaves office.
From the hour-long session it appeared that the court was searching for a middle ground position that would allow civil cases against sitting presidents to proceed, while not interfering with important official presidential duties.
The justices gave no clear indication how they will rule when a decision is handed down in four to five months, but expressed doubts of approving a blanket rule which would allow presidents to automatically defer all civil cases against them until their term concluded.
Clinton attorney Robert S. Bennett argued before the court, "Unless there are exceptional circumstances in a case, the president of the United States should not be subject to litigation" while in office. "He should not be taken away from his constitutional duties."
Acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger also gave arguments on Clinton's behalf. He said, "The public interest in a president's unimpaired performance of his duties must take precedence over a private litigant's desire for redress."
But Jones' lawyer Gilbert K. Davis disagreed, saying that justice delayed is justice denied. He said that a postponement would result in a deterioration of their case as people's memories may fade or evidence could be lost.
Davis also said that the president "has the same rights and responsibilities as all other citizens," and therefore must face the suit as any other American would have to.
Justice Antonin Scalia said arguments by Clinton's lawyers that a lawsuit would take up too much of the president's time were not very persuasive. "We see presidents riding horseback, chopping firewood...and so forth," Scalia said. "The notion that he doesn't have a minute to spare is not credible."
Bennett and Dellinger were also barraged by questions involving their contention that a 1982 case involving President Richard Nixon, where the Supreme Court ruled that the president could not be sued for damages involving their official duties, was relevant case law. Repeatedly, several justices said that case did not apply in this instance.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said, "I don't see how that element is involved here," in a civil suit over alleged private actions that took place before Clinton took office.
Others were troubled that ruling to delay this trial would impact future civil proceedings that required more immediate action. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor cited the example of a child custody case.
The Justices seemed more persuaded by the argument that going forward now could jeopardize the constitutional separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches, giving a trial judge control over the president's schedule.
Scalia said, "That allows any judge, federal or state, to sit in judgment of the president's assertion of whether his executive duties are important or not."
In response, Davis said that there could be a provision where if the president said in good faith that he didn't have time to participate that the judge could honor that. But that argument illicited the skeptical comment from Justice Kennedy, "It seems to me that you give away most of your case. That argues strongly for the absolute immunity that the president's attorney are asking for."
Fewer than 100 people braved Washington D.C.'s freezing temperatures to line up outside the Supreme Court building to get a courtroom seat, a small number in comparison to other highly publicized cases.
And unlike last week's highly controversial Supreme Court case on assisted suicide that drew a large number of protesters, only a few people showed up this morning with sign's supporting Jones. They were joined by someone sporting a duck costume holding a sign that asking why the president was "ducking" the issue.