Clinton's Day In Court

  • Share
  • Read Later
WASHINGTON, D.C.: On a day when his thoughts should have been focused on the Mall, making preparations for his upcoming second term inauguration, President Clinton instead found his focus turned toward the Supreme Court building. There, justices aggressively questioned attorneys for both Clinton and Paula Jones as they heard arguments over whether or not Clinton should be allowed to delay Jones' sexual harassment suit. Justice Antonin Scalia challenged the assertion of Clinton attorney Robert Bennett that the President was too busy to defend himself, telling Bennett: "The notion that he doesn't have a minute to spare is not credible." But Scalia seemed sympathetic to the heart of Bennett's argument: that under the Constitution's separation of powers, the nation's hundreds of federal judges should not have the power to haul a sitting president into court if cases are filed against him. Justice Anthony Kennedy said the potential for intrusion "argues strongly for the absolute privilege that (Clinton's lawyers) are suggesting." Jones attorney Gilbert Davis countered that to grant the President even temporary immunity is to place him above the law. Monday's hearing was the third time this legal issue has been aired before a federal bench, with the courts splitting on the decision. A federal judge in Arkansas had ruled the trial must be delayed until Clinton leaves office, but that the evidence discovery process could proceed. That ruling was overturned by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January 1996. The betting in the Beltway is that the Court will hand down a ruling similar to the federal court's in Arkansas. This would allow discovery to proceed, a potentially embarrassing process in which Clinton would have a hard time keeping secret even if his depositions were taken under seal. In any event, a ruling is not expected until this summer, which means Clinton will spend a lot more days thinking about the Supreme Court.