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Clinton v. Jones

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Significance: The Supreme Court unanimously rejected President Bill Clinton's claim of immunity from a civil suit while in office.


In 1994 Paula Jones brought a sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton. She alleged that an incident had taken place in 1991, when he was governor of Arkansas and she a state employee. President Clinton asserted that the suit should be postponed until after his term of office expired. He argued that the separation of powers doctrine places limits on the authority of the judiciary over the executive branch, and he also referred to Nixon v. Fitzgerald (1982), which provided presidents with absolute immunity from suits arising from their official duties of office. Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens reasoned that a president was not totally immune from the jurisdiction of the federal courts and that it was appropriate for the courts to determine the legality of a president's conduct, both official and unofficial. Stevens suggested that the suit should not be especially “onerous” in time and efforts. A delay in the trial, he argued, would be unfair to Jones because it would increase the danger of prejudice from lost evidence.