On this day in 1974, Richard Nixon refused to provide materials to the Senate Watergate Committee, which it had subpoenaed. This led eventually to the Supreme Court case United States v Nixon, where a unanimous Court found on 24 July 1974 that the president did have to turn over those materials. Nixon resigned two weeks later.
I have two thoughts on the matter. First, part of Nixon’s defense was that there was an executive privilege for the president to protect “those who advise and assist them in carrying out their duties.” This is exactly what we heard again and again during the George W Bush administration. And now we’ve added the argument that releasing audio of the president urinating would risk the nation security. I’ve long thought that Nixon went down more because he just wasn’t liked than that there was anything that the power elite actually had a problem with. I’m not saying that Nixon shouldn’t have been thrown out of office; I’m saying that a hell of a lot of other people should have been thrown out too.
The second thing is that I just don’t see the current Supreme Court finding unanimously against the president with regard to Watergate. The court at that time worked very hard to come up with a unanimous opinion. I would have thought that the same would have been true in Bush v Gore. That was a clear case where everyone should have agreed that the count should have continued. Certainly David Souter thought the decision a sham. Here’s what Jeffrey Toobin wrote about him regarding the case:
And that Supreme Court was far more reasonable than today’s Court. I suspect that if the Watergate case came before the Court today and it were a Democratic president, it would be a unanimous decision. But if it were another Republican, the president would win 5-4. Maybe I’m too cynical. But after Bush v Gore, it’s hard to imagine the conservative justices not finding a way to make sure that their “side” wins.