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Street Law, Inc. and The Supreme Court Historical Society present
Street Law /
Landmark Cases /
United States v. Nixon
". . . Absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets, we find it difficult to accept the . . . [absolute] confidentiality of presidential communications." — Chief Justice Warren Burger
A congressional hearing about President Nixon’s Watergate break-in scandal revealed that he had installed a tape-recording device in the Oval Office. The special prosecutor in charge of the case wanted access to these taped discussions to help prove that President Nixon and his aides had abused their power and broken the law. President Nixon’s incomplete compliance with the special prosecutor's demands was challenged and eventually taken to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court decided that executive privilege is not limitless, and the tapes were ordered released.
These materials were developed for students of various skill levels, and teachers should choose the level that works best for their students. Answers to the background questions, vocabulary, and activities can be found in the FOR TEACHERS ONLY tab under each case.
After the Case
* Answers to the background questions, vocabulary, and activities can be found in the FOR TEACHERS ONLY tab under each case.
Complete the activities for the first day.
On the second day, discuss the Court's opinion and have students complete What Secrets are Protected under Executive Privilege?
For homework on the second day, have students complete Nixon's Views on Presidential Power: Excerpts from a 1977 Interview with David Frost.
Complete the activities for the first and second days.
On the third day, have students complete Through the Years: Comparing Impeachments in U.S. History, which is divided into Parts I and II. Part I deals with the impeachment process itself and Part II addresses specific historical examples. If you are short on time or if your students have difficulty with the concepts, have students only complete Part I.
Alternatively, have students examine the issues of executive privilege that were raised in the case of Clinton v. Jones in President Clinton: The President as Defendant.
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