January 21, 1997 · Cavalier Daily

Justice Delayed, Not Denied

This opinion article reacts to a lawsuit by Paula Jones against President Bill Clinton for an alleged act of sexual harassment during his term as governor of Arkansas. The writer speculates whether Clinton's status as president grants him the right to immunity from a civil trial, given that such a trial would impact his image and the execution of his presidential duties. However, she concludes that he should not be granted immunity, because Jones deserves a fair trial and Clinton committed the alleged sexual crimes prior to his presidential term.


1997-01-21 Cavalier Daily Justice Delayed, Not Denied.pdf
Julia Miller
Cavalier Daily
Cavalier Daily
Justice Delayed, Not Denied
Sexual harassment and scandal go hand in hand these days, and neither are strangers to the Clinton White House. Paula Jones is suing President Clinton for an alleged act of harassment that occured [sic] during his term as Governor of Arkansas. The trial hopefully will bring out the truth, but the case raises even more important questions concerning presidential privilege.
The legal firestorm started as an incident at a Governor’s Quality convention when Jones was a government employee. According to Jones, Clinton called her up to his hotel room, at which point he pulled down his pants and asked her to "kiss it." Charming. In 1992, Paula Jones filed a sexual harassment suit against Clinton. Before extensive legal action could be taken, Clinton and his lawyers filed a suit requesting presidential immunity. which would postpone the trial until after his presidential term.
The legal questions in the case boil down to a few basic points. Most important, does the presidential office afford an individual the right to immunity from civil trial? If the answer is yes, does Clinton then have the power to claim that immunity in the current sexual harassment case?
The answers to the questions are not clear cut. Constitutional theory and precedent do grant immunity for alleged acts taking place during a president's time in office. If a president was concerned about lawsuits during his term, his effectiveness in office could be severely limited. Judges and members of Congress face the same problem. Imagine if a Judge had to worry about whether every ruling he handed down would result in a civil suit. His position would be effectively emasculated. The president should be free from the worry that his decisions and acts in his official capacity could be subject to a civil suit. The key point here is that official duties and acts must be protected from civil prosecution.
In the Paula Jones case, however, Clinton cannot reasonably claim absolute immunity. The alleged harassment occurred before he came to the White House and not even the most skilled spin doctors can make us believe the action had anything remotely to do with his executive duties. In light of those facts, it seems Clinton's diehard quest for immunity simply is a last ditch effort to keep a scandal under the rug. It is unfortunate he has chosen such a rigid agenda, however. because a Iegal compromise would be in his interests.
What will it mean if Clinton is denied absolute immunity? It is hard to argue that his presidency will be harmed substantially. During oral arguments before the Supreme Court last week. Justice Antonin Scalia remarked that a trial would not take precious time away from the president because he often saw and heard of the president playing golf and the like. Justice Scalia is correct, a civil trial probably would not take up a large portion of Clinton's time, but Scalia is forgetting one important point. The President of the United States is only one person.
That sounds like an obvious statement, but the office of the presidency is truly unique. He is the chief executive officer of the nation, and in that sense, he never gets a day off from being president. So while a civil trial might not take up each and every moment, a suit will certainly affect his state of mind and his duties. With economic security, social changes and foreign policy issues on America's plate, our president should be able to focus on those issues. As harsh as it might sound, a sexual harassment case should be the least of his worries.
No matter what one believes regarding Clinton's guilt or innocence, Paula Jones deserves her day in court. Four years, however, is not going to make or break that day. The Supreme Court could allow for a stay of trial proceedings until after President Clinton leaves office, while still allowing the discovery and deposition process. That way, the integrity of witness testimony would remain intact because official documentation would safeguard against possible death and the lapse in memory which comes with time. Jones would receive a fair trial and the President could keep his focus on the nation and the myriad issues that are bigger than one man and one woman.
Julia Miller
Associate Editor
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Date Added June 19, 2016
Date Modifed December 24, 2017
Collection Cavalier Daily: articles about gender discrimination

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