The Supreme Court held that high officials of the executive branch, with rare exceptions, do not have absolute immunity from civil suits.

Economou, a commodities dealer, filed a civil suit for $32 million, claiming that Secretary of Agriculture Butz had entered a false claim against him because of his criticisms of the department’s policies. Citing Supreme Court precedents, Butz responded that he had absolute immunity from such a suit. Speaking for a 5-4 majority, however, Chief Justice Byron R. WhiteWhite, Byron R.;Butz v. Economou[Butz v. Economou] declared that executive officials are entitled only to qualified good-faith immunity. Thus, officials are liable for damages if their illegal actions actually deprived a person of clearly established rights or if they acted with malicious intention in an attempt to cause harm or to deprive a person of constitutional rights. The Court allowed for exceptions for prosecutors and judicial officials within administrative agencies.Executive immunity;Butz v. Economou[Butz v. Economou]

In Harlow v. Fitzgerald[case]Harlow v. Fitzgerald[Harlow v. Fitzgerald] (1982), the Court modified the Economou ruling by eliminating the malicious intention test as a basis for bringing suits against officials. In Harlow’s companion case, Nixon v. Fitzgerald[case]Nixon v. Fitzgerald[Nixon v. Fitzgerald] (1982), the Court found that the president did have absolute immunity for any actions stemming from his official duties.

Clinton v. Jones

Executive immunity

Nixon, United States v.

Separation of powers