United States v. Nixon (1974)

Bryan Izzo & Chris Caruso

President Nixon's Watergate Break-In Scandal Background

Five burglars were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel and office complex in Washington, D.C. Information later revealed by authorities discovered that there were five buglers involved and they were affiliated with the campaign to re-elect Nixon. The congressional hearings on the break-in scandal revealed that President Nixon installed a tape recording device into the oval office. Nixon had prosecutor after the tapes from this recording device removed from his job which only led to more suspicion. A new prosecutor was appointed to the case by a federal district court judge to continue the case and the court ordered the president to follow the prosecutor's requests.

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What did it solve?

Nixon’s lawyers argued during the case that this case cannot be heard because this is a dispute within the executive branch. Nixon’s lawyers also argued that the immunity granted to the president should protect the tapes. This concept of executive immunity is based on the constitutional separation of powers. What this case established is a clear understanding of how this separation of power is to be interpreted and how it cannot be contorted in any way. Authorities had to use these tapes so they can further investigate a case involving aides of Nixon’s campaign. Nixon didn’t want to hand over the tapes because of “executive privilege,” which was not how this executive power was to be used.

What did it change?

This did a great deal to establish the idea that the president is required to obey orders from the courts just like everyone else. The president can’t use executive privilege as an excuse to withhold evidence that is demonstrably relevant in a criminal trial.


This did a great deal to establish the idea that the president is required to obey orders from the courts just like everyone else. The president can’t use executive privilege as an excuse to withhold evidence that is demonstrably relevant in a criminal trial.