High Court Allows Sexual Harassment Case Against President to Proceed

May 27, 1997 12:00 am

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Monday, May 27, 1997

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that the Constitution does not shield the president from having to face lawsuits over acts unrelated to his official duties, and allowed a sexual harassment case against President Clinton to proceed.

The unanimous decision, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, echoed the position of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case arguing that the President is not immune from lawsuits relating to unofficial conduct.

“This ruling is one of the strongest affirmations ever by the Court that no one in this country, including the President, is above the law,” said Steven R. Shapiro, the ACLU’s legal director. “By rejecting the President’s request for immunity, the Supreme Court has upheld a critical component of our nation’s judicial system.”

The case stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Corbin Jones against President Clinton for conduct that allegedly occurred while the President was still Governor of Arkansas. While the ACLU did not take a position on the merits of the claim, its brief emphatically supported Jones’s right to a timely hearing of her claims before a court.

In seeking to have the lawsuit deferred until he leaves office, the President’s lawyers stressed the burden on the President’s time. But the Court today agreed with the ACLU’s position that it is reasonable to assume that a trial court will, and should, do everything possible to accommodate a President’s schedule.

The Court also agreed with the ACLU that there was no evidence to support the President’s claim that allowing the lawsuit to proceed will lead to an avalanche of politically motivated suits against future presidents. The ACLU’s brief also noted that the legal system already imposes severe sanctions against litigants who file frivolous lawsuits.

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