The five and a half hours of oral argument before the Supreme Court this week are probably the most anticipated since the final days of the Watergate scandal. Barring a major unanticipated event, it will utterly dominate this week’s news out of Washington. Indeed people have been camped out since Friday in order to get one of the very few seats available to the public. (For those not inclined to sit on the street for three days to hear it directly, audiotapes of the arguments will be available each afternoon). A good summary of the cases and the players can be found here.
In 1974, as the nation hung on every word, the Court heard arguments in United States v. Nixon on July 8th, 1974, and on July 24th delivered its unanimous verdict (8-0, Justice Rehnquist, later Chief Justice, having recused himself because he had worked in the Nixon Justice Department). The verdict, denying the president’s power to assert executive privilege over tapes relevant to the case, doomed the Nixon presidency and led to Nixon’s resignation on August 9th. For those of us old enough to be around in those days, now nearly forty years ago, it was the great constitutional drama of our lives. (You can hear the oral arguments and the delivery of the decision here.)