Unanimous - And Right. The Supreme Court's often divided justices spoke with essentially one voice in ruling that a citizen/plaintiff has the right to proceed in court against a sitting president/citizen for alleged actions outside the scope of his official duties.
In that historic decision the justices affirmed basic American ideals of fairness. They did not prejudge the Jones v. Clinton case.
They also rightly cautioned the district judge to whom they will hand back the case to be solicitous of the president's schedule and duties. But they doubted the Clinton argument that their judgment would open the presidency to a flood of distracting, politically motivated lawsuits.
We agree on all these points. But we must note that this lofty decision - and the decidedly non-lofty allegation of sexual harassment that caused it - have already diverted press and public attention from at least one important matter. That is the question of whether America should agree to having its longstanding role in the defense of Europe expanded through the addition of three, then three more, then possibly four more NATO members. Mr. Clinton argues that the same interest that led the US to help rebuild Europe 50 years ago through the Marshall Plan should reappear in US support for: (1) eastward NATO expansion; (2) further uniting of Europe; and (3) tying Russia to its "home" in Europe.
A Senate ratification battle over NATO looms in the future. This "internationalist" issue may become entangled in fallout from struggles over China trade (June) and expansion of the North America Free Trade Association to South America (next fall). Both are issues on which his labor allies and House minority leader Gephardt have attacked Mr. Clinton.
In short, the president (and Americans) face major decisions on Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Not small potatoes! Which argues for his moving to settle the Paula Jones case quickly, rather than trying to drag it out indefinitely.
The US should keep wooing Russia toward free markets and Europe. It should stay engaged in nudging China toward law-based freedoms. And it should expand NAFTA's job- and wealth-producing trade southward. All three will require strong and consistent presidential leadership.