Nixon's Letter to Sirica Given to Law School

January 31, 2006

On July 23, 1973, President Richard Nixon J.D. '37, in a letter to federal Judge John J. Sirica, refused to comply with a subpoena seeking taped conversations from the Oval Office. He argued for executive privilege, writing, "It would be wholly inadmissible for the President to seek to compel some particular action by the courts. It is equally inadmissible for the courts to seek to compel some particular action from the President."

Sirica rejected Nixon's argument, saying that executive privilege did not apply to the tapes. His ruling was upheld on appeal, leading to the release of the infamous tapes that would link the White House to the Watergate cover-up, and, ultimately, the resignation of the president. Thirty-two years later, Nixon's original letter, on White House stationery somewhat yellowed from age but still intact, was presented to the law school by Sirica's son, John "Jack" Sirica Jr. '76, an editor at Newsday.

The younger Sirica, who had dropped out of Duke temporarily and was living at home with his parents during part of the Watergate case, told of the stress his father went through as he deliberated the issues involved in the case.

"I think we owe a great deal to a federal judge who first addressed all these great constitutional questions and had the courage of his convictions to render the decisions that he thought were called for by the Constitution," said Christopher Schroeder, Charles S. Murphy Professor of law and public-policy studies, speaking at the ceremony hosted by the law school in honor of the presentation. "It's a nice commemoration of a troubled presidency," Schroeder said.