The Supreme Court in the Political System
On Friday, May 31, 1974, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court met in their traditional secret Conference Session to decide whether to grant an order to set up an expedited hearing in the case of United States v. Nixon. 1 Scarcely ten days earlier, John Sirica, the chief judge of the U.S. federal district court in Washington, D.C., had ordered President Richard M. Nixon to surrender sixty-four tapes to the special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski (appointed after the initial prosecutor, Archibald Cox, had been fired by acting Attorney General Robert Bork in the fall of 1973). 2 Mr. Jaworski and his staff were preparing the criminal trial of seven (later six) of Nixon's former White House staff, 3 and it was felt that the presidential tapes would provide important information necessary for the fair administration of criminal justice.
On May 24, 1974, four days after the Sirica order was issued, the president's lawyers filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals that challenged the constitutionality of the district court ruling. That same day, however, Jaworski took the startling step of seeking Rule 20 review 4 by the U.S Supreme Court before