Republicans v. Obama – and other times the president has been sued


Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) listens as President Obama speaks during a ceremony honoring the President's Cup golf teams in the East Room of the White House in Washington June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The House Republicans’ efforts to sue the President are chugging along.  House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has announced his rationale for suing Obama – namely, the changes in employer mandate thanks to Obamacare.

This isn't the first time a president has been sued, both in and out of office. While some suits have been pointless, as Obama thinks Boehner's action is, some of them have had a significant impact in defining the office of president.

Here are some of the previous instances when presidents of the United States have encountered litigation.

1974: United States v. Nixon

In the latter stages of Watergate, special prosecutor Leon Jaworski obtained a subpoena ordering Richard Nixon to turn over certain tapes and papers. Nixon refused and went to the Supreme Court to argue against handing them over. The judges unanimously ruled against Nixon. This crucial decision rejected Nixon’s claim of “absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances." Fifteen days after the ruling, Nixon resigned. It was a landmark moment in defining the powers of the president.

1997: Jones v. Clinton
A former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones filed a sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton. This was another landmark case, establishing that presidents have no immunity from civil litigation -- and that presidents can be sued for actions unrelated to and before their time in office. Following a four and a half year case, Clinton reached an out-of-court settlement with Jones, paying her $850,000. Numerous embarrassing allegations were also made public about the president’s sex life.

1984: Phelps v. Reagan
The former head of the Westboro Baptist Church Fred Phelps sued Ronald Reagan for his appointment of a U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, arguing it breached the divide between church and state. Phelps filed the case in the U.S. District Court in Topeka, Kan., where the church was based. The suit was thrown out by Judge Richard Rogers who said Phelps “lacked standing” and ruled that Reagan hadn’t violated the First Amendment.

2000: Bush v. Gore
After the Florida hung in the balance following the 2000 presidential election, the state’s Supreme Court ordered a state wide manual recount. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-1 to stop the recount -- stating it was unconstitutional -- which meant Bush’s 0.5% majority in Florida was held. The ruling essentially named George W. Bush as the 43rd president.

1962: Bailey v. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy was sued during his time in office by Mississippi Senator Hugh Lee Bailey for injuries he sustained in a car accident two years earlier. Although Kennedy wasn't directly involved, Bailey claimed that injuries caused by Kennedy's driver left him unable to ride his donkey. Kennedy settled for $17,500.

2011: Kucinich v. Obama
Boehner isn't the first member of Congress to try to sue Obama. Two years ago, former House member Dennis Kucinich and eight other House members filed a lawsuit against Obama, arguing he'd violated the 1973 War Powers Resolution by taking military action in Libya without consulting Congress. A federal judge shot down the case, stating the plaintiffs had no standing to sue.

2013: Saleh v. Bush
Although he's out of office, former president George W. Bush is facing litigation relating to his presidency. He is being sued, along with several members of his administration, by a single Iraqi mother for crimes of aggression against the Iraqi people and for violating the Nuremberg Principles. The Obama administration has tried to protect the defendants by attempting to bring down the case twice, unsuccessfully. Saleh filed her second amended complaint on Jun 8.

Sebastian Payne is a national reporter with The Washington Post. He is the Post’s 35th Laurence Stern fellow.
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