By Michael Arnheim

This case is the flip side of Nixon v. Fitzgerald. In that case, the high court ruled that the President is totally immune from civil suits for anything he does in his official capacity. In this later case, a unanimous high court held that the President is not immune from suit for anything that he did before he became president — and that such private lawsuits can go ahead even while the President is still in office. What about civil lawsuits arising out of private acts that the President commits while in office? Can a sitting President be sued for these too? Yes, apparently so.

The case arose out of a civil suit brought against President Bill Clinton by Paula Jones, who accused Clinton of sexual harassment while he was Governor of Arkansas. The case led indirectly to Clinton’s impeachment. Clinton survived the impeachment process and was acquitted, which enabled him to serve out the rest of his second term. He left office in 2001 with (according to Gallup) an approval rating of 65 percent — up from the 50 percent average approval rating during his first term.