• U.S.

The Nation: Compromise Offer

2 minute read

As a rule, American courts shy away from handing down a far-reaching decision on a constitutional question if they can find another solution. Better to search for a compromise than to spell out a judgment that could cause unforeseen problems later on.

Last week such a compromise on the grave issue of the President’s Watergate tapes and documents was suggested by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. White House lawyers were arguing that the President−because he was President−had the unlimited right to decide whether or not the tapes and papers should be given to a grand jury as requested. Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox was claiming that the President’s powers were limited by the fact that the tapes were needed for criminal investigations, and no citizen could refuse such a request.

With the perquisites of the presidency and grave questions of separation of powers at stake, the seven sitting justices took the step, unusual in a criminal proceeding, of recommending an out-of-court settlement. They proposed that the President or his delegate should go over the tapes with Cox and White House Attorney Charles Alan Wright and decide what material should go to the grand jury. That way no one’s principles would be surrendered. However, if no agreement was possible, the court said, it would make a ruling on the case, one that would certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Cox at once said that he would be delighted to talk the court’s proposal over with the President and his men to see if it could be made to work. At week’s end, the President and his lawyers were still considering the proposition.

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