The Burger Court (1969–86)

First Amendment

CourtSpeak: United States v. Nixon
Presidential Executive Privilege Case (1974)

Chief Justice Warren Burger (unanimous): “To read the Art. II powers of the President as providing an absolute privilege as against a subpoena essential to enforcement of criminal statutes on no more than a generalized claim of the public interest in confidentiality of nonmilitary and nondiplomatic discussions would upset the constitutional balance of a workable government and gravely impair the role of the courts under Art. III….

“We conclude that when the ground for asserting privilege as to subpoened materials sought for use in a criminal trial is based only on the generalized interest in confidentiality, it cannot prevail over the fundamental demands of due process of law in the fair administration of criminal justice. The generalized assertion of privilege must yield to the demonstrated, specific need for evidence in a pending criminal trial.”


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