For Mr. Cheney, a Legal Shield

Wednesday, August 2, 2006; Page A14

Vice President Cheney has little to fear from the lawsuit that Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, Valerie Plame, filed against him, presidential adviser Karl Rove, former top Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby and other, unnamed government officials ["The Futility of Chasing Leaks," op-ed, July 20; news story, July 15].

That's because in a series of cases the Supreme Court has recognized that the Constitution grants presidents, and presumably vice presidents, immunity from civil-damages lawsuits (even though it doesn't specifically say this) and that the immunity is absolute. That is how the court ruled in a famous case in which former president Richard M. Nixon was sued by a fired whistleblower, A. Ernest Fitzgerald, and in the case in which Paula Jones sued President Bill Clinton. How was it, then, that the lawsuit against Mr. Clinton was allowed to proceed?

It was because there is only one qualification to the "absolute" prohibition on lawsuits: The behavior in question must be related, even if only tangentially, to the exercise of his official duties. What Paula Jones alleged about Mr. Clinton had nothing to do with his exercising the powers and duties of the presidency and occurred when he was governor of Arkansas. Regardless of his motives, since the vice president's alleged wrongful acts lay within what the Supreme Court called "the outer perimeter of his authority," that makes his immunity absolute.