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NADER v. BORK

November 14, 1973

Ralph NADER et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Robert H. BORK, Acting Attorney General of the United States, Defendant


Gesell, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL

GESELL, District Judge.

 This is a declaratory judgment and injunction action arising out of the discharge of Archibald Cox from the office of Watergate Special Prosecutor. Defendant Robert H. Bork was the Acting Attorney General who discharged Mr. Cox. Plaintiffs named in the Amended Complaint are as listed above.

 Some issues have already been decided. The matter first came before the Court on plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction and a request that the trial of the action on the merits be consolidated with the preliminary injunction pursuant to Rule 65(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendant filed opposition papers, and a hearing was held on the detailed affidavits and briefs filed by the parties. The Court determined that the case was in proper posture for a determination on the merits at that time.

 All injunctive relief requested in the proposed preliminary injunction tendered at the hearing and in the Amended Complaint was denied from the bench. The effect of the injunctions sought would have been to reinstate Mr. Cox as Watergate Special Prosecutor and to halt the Watergate investigation until he had reassumed control. It appeared to the Court that Mr. Cox's participation in this case was required before such relief could be granted. See Rule 19(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Yet Mr. Cox has not entered into this litigation, nor has he otherwise sought to be reinstated as Special Prosecutor. On the contrary, his return to prior duties at Harvard has been publicly announced. Moreover, a new Watergate Special Prosecutor was sworn in on November 5, 1973, and the Court felt that the public interest would not be served by placing any restrictions upon his on-going investigation of Watergate-related matters.

 Plaintiffs continue to press for a declaratory judgment on the only remaining issue to be resolved: the legality of the discharge of Mr. Cox and of the temporary abolition of the Office of Watergate Special Prosecutor. To this end, it must initially be determined whether plaintiffs have standing and whether a justiciable controversy still exists.

 Defendant Bork contends that the congressional plaintiffs lack standing *fn1" and that the controversy is moot. This position is without merit. The discharge of Mr. Cox precipitated a widespread concern, if not lack of confidence, in the administration of justice. Numerous bills are pending in the Senate and House of Representatives which attempt to insulate the Watergate inquiries and prosecutions from Executive interference, and impeachment of the President because of his alleged role in the Watergate matter -- including the firing of Mr. Cox -- is under active consideration. *fn2" Given these unusual circumstances, the standing of the three congressional plaintiffs to pursue their effort to obtain a judicial determination as to the legality of the Cox discharge falls squarely within the recent holding of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Mitchell v. Laird, 488 F.2d 611, 159 U.S. App. D.C. 344 (D.C.Cir. 1973). Faced with a challenge by a group of congressmen to the legality of the Indo-China War, the Court recognized standing in the following forceful terms:

 
If we, for the moment, assume that defendants' actions in continuing the hostilities in Indo-China were or are beyond the authority conferred upon them by the Constitution, a declaration to that effect would bear upon the duties of plaintiffs to consider whether to impeach defendants, and upon plaintiffs' quite distinct and different duties to make appropriations to support the hostilities, such as raising an army or enacting other civil or criminal legislation. In our view, these considerations are sufficient to give plaintiffs a standing to make their complaint. . . .

 Id. at 4.

 Unable to distinguish this holding, defendant Bork suggests that the instant case has been mooted by subsequent events and that the Court as a discretionary matter should refuse to rule on the legality of the Cox discharge. This view of the matter is more academic than realistic, and fails to recognize the insistent demand for some degree of certainty with regard to these distressing events which have engendered considerable public distrust of government. There is a pressing need to declare a rule of law that will give guidance for future conduct with regard to the Watergate inquiry.

 While it is perfectly true that the importance of the question presented cannot alone save a case from mootness, Marchand v. Director, United States Probation Office, 421 F.2d 331, 333 (1st Cir. 1970), the congressional plaintiffs before the Court have a substantial and continuing interest in this litigation. It is an undisputed fact that pending legislation may be affected by the outcome of this dispute and that the challenged conduct of the defendant could be repeated with regard to the new Watergate Special Prosecutor if he presses too hard, *fn3" an event which would undoubtedly prompt further congressional action. This situation not only saves the case from mootness, see United States v. Concentrated Phosphate Export Assoc., 393 U.S. 199, 203-204, 89 S. Ct. 361, 21 L. Ed. 2d 344 (1968); Friend v. United States, 128 U.S.App.D.C. 323, 388 F.2d 579 (1967), but forces decision. The Court has before it an issue that is far from speculative and a strong showing has been made that judicial determination of that issue is required by the public interest. Under these circumstances, it would be an abuse of discretion not to act.

 Turning then to the merits, the facts are not in dispute and must be briefly stated to place the legal discussion in the proper context.

 The duties and responsibilities of the Office of Watergate Special Prosecutor were set forth in a formal Department of Justice regulation, *fn4" as authorized by statute. *fn5" This regulation gave the Watergate Special Prosecutor very broad power to investigate and prosecute offenses arising out of the Watergate break-in, the 1972 Presidential election, and allegations involving the President, members of the White House staff or presidential appointees. Specifically, he was charged with responsibility to conduct court proceedings and to determine whether or not to contest assertions of Executive privilege. He was to remain in office until a date mutually agreed upon between the Attorney General and himself, and it was provided that "The Special Prosecutor will not be removed from his duties except for extraordinary improprieties on his part."

 On the same day that this regulation was promulgated, Archibald Cox was designated as Watergate Special Prosecutor. *fn6" Less than four months later, Mr. Cox was fired by defendant Bork. It is freely admitted that he was not discharged for an extraordinary impropriety. *fn7" Instead, Mr. Cox was discharged on the order of the President because he was insisting upon White House compliance with a Court Order which was no longer subject to further judicial review. After the Attorney General had resigned rather than fire Mr. Cox on this ground and the Deputy Attorney General had been discharged for ...


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