Nixon v. United States, 506 U.S. 224 (1993)

 

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Walter Louis Nixon Jr. (born 1928) is a former United States federal judge who in 1989 was impeached by the House of Representatives and removed from office by the Senate.[1]Because Nixon’s impeachment was for perjury, the case was cited as a precedent in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.[2][not in citation given][3] Despite his surname, Walter Nixon has no relation to the 37th U.S. President Richard Nixon.

Early life

Nixon was born in BiloxiMississippi.[1] He attended Tulane University Law School, graduating in 1951 and went into private practice in his hometown of Biloxi. He also served in the United States Air Force from 1953 to 1955.[1]

On May 29, 1968, Nixon was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson to a new seat on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, created by 80 Stat. 75.[1] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 6, 1968, and received his commission on June 7, 1968.[1] In 1982, due to his length of tenure, he became Chief Judge of the same District Court.[1]

Impeachment

Nixon was convicted in 1986 on perjury charges and sentenced to 5 years in prison. The offense stemmed from his grand jury testimony and statements to federal officers concerning his intervention in the state drug prosecution of Drew Fairchild, the son of Wiley Fairchild, a business partner of Nixon. Although the case was assigned to a state court, Wiley Fairchild had asked Nixon to help out by speaking to the prosecutor. Nixon did so, and the prosecutor, a long-time friend, dropped the case. When Nixon was interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice, he denied any involvement whatsoever. Subsequently, a federal grand jury was empaneled and he again denied his involvement. He was convicted of making false statements to a grand jury.

Nixon refused to resign and continued to both hold the title of Federal Judge and collect his judicial salary in prison. In 1989, he was impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate, for committing perjury before a grand jury. Upon his conviction by the Senate, he was officially removed from office and permanently banned from the federal judiciary.[4]

Nixon appealed his impeachment and removal to the United States Supreme Court. In Nixon v. United States, handed down in 1993, the Court rejected his appeal as a nonjusticiable political question.[5]

Life after prison

He was disbarred in 1990. The State Supreme Court ruled in May 1993 that he could be readmitted to the state bar after passing the exam. As of September 2007 he lives and practices law in Biloxi and[vague] in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Nixon v. United States, 506 U.S. 224 (1993),[1] was a United States Supreme Court decision that determined that the question of whether the Senate had properly tried an impeachment was a political question and could not be resolved in the courts.

The Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of MississippiWalter Nixon, was convicted of committing perjury before a grand jury but refused to resign from office even after he had been incarcerated. Nixon was subsequently impeached by the US House of Representatives, and the matter was referred to the Senate for a vote on Nixon’s removal. The Senate appointed a committee to hear the evidence against Nixon and later report to the body as a whole. The Senate then heard the report of the committee and voted to remove Nixon from office. Nixon contended that this did not meet the constitutional requirement of Article I for the case to be „tried by the Senate.”

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Decision

The court’s decision was unanimous, but four separate opinions were published. The majority opinion, by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, held that the courts may not review the impeachment and trial of a federal officer because the Constitution reserves that function to a coordinate political branch. Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution gives the Senate the „sole power to try all impeachments.” Because of the word „sole,” it is clear that the judicial branch was not to be included. Furthermore, because the word „try” was originally understood to include factfinding committees, there was a textually demonstrable commitment to give broad discretion to the Senate in impeachments.

Furthermore the Framers believed that representatives of the people should try impeachments, and the Court was too small to justly try impeachments. Also, the judicial branch is „checked” by impeachments, so judicial involvement in impeachments might violate the doctrine of the separation of powers.

The Court further ruled that involving the judiciary would prevent finality without clear remedy and bias post-impeachment criminal or civil prosecutions, which the Constitution explicitly allows.

Justices Byron WhiteHarry Blackmun, and David Souter concurred, but voiced concern that the Court was foreclosing the area for review. While they found that the Senate had done all that was constitutionally required, they were concerned that the Court should have the power to review cases in which the Senate removed an impeached officer summarily without a hearing, or through some arbitrary process such as „a coin toss.”

An important feature of this case is how it diverges from Powell v. McCormack. In Powell, a grant of discretionary power to Congress was deemed to be justiciable because it required a mere „interpretation” of the Constitution.