Clinton v. Jones

520 U.S. 681, 117 S. Ct. 1636 (1997)



The district court has broad discretion to stay proceedings as an incident to its power to control its own docket.


A private citizen sought to recover damages against the President of the United States for actions that allegedly took place before his term began. The President sought a motion to dismiss and argued that in all but the most exceptional cases, the U.S. Constitution requires federal courts to delay such litigation until the President's term ends. The district court denied the motion to dismiss but postponed the trial. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals affirmed the district court to deny the motion to dismiss and reversed district court's order postponing the trial until the petitioner leaves office. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.


Was it proper for the district court postpone trial?




The Court ruled that the doctrine of separation of powers does not require federal courts to stay all private actions against the President of the United States until he leaves office. When defining the scope of an immunity for acts clearly taken within an official capacity, the Supreme Court has applied a functional approach. Thus, an official's absolute immunity should extend only to acts in performance of particular functions of his office. Immunities are grounded in the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it.

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