A former President of the United States is entitled to absolute immunity from damages liability predicated on his official acts. This immunity is a functionally mandated incident of the President's unique office, rooted in the constitutional tradition of the separation of powers and supported by history.
Respondent, a former government employee, filed a suit against petitioner, a former United States President, for retaliatory discharge. After petitioner's motion to dismiss based upon a claim of absolute immunity was denied, petitioner filed a motion for a writ of certiorari. Petitioner contended that he enjoyed absolute immunity from civil liability for actions taken while serving as President. The Court reversed the lower court's decision.
Is Petitioner, as a former President of the United States, entitled to absolute immunity from damages liability predicated on his official acts?
The Court noted that a grant of absolute immunity to the President would not leave the President with unfettered power. The Court stated that there were formal and informal checks on presidential action that did not apply with equal force to other executive officials. The Court observed that the President was subjected to constant scrutiny by the press. It noted that vigilant oversight by Congress would also serve to deter presidential abuses of office, as well as to make credible the threat of impeachment. The court determined that other incentives to avoid misconduct existed, including a desire to earn reelection, the need to maintain prestige as an element of presidential influence, and a President's traditional concern for his historical stature.