Tuesday, June 28, 2016


This evening I have been examining the Supreme Court decision  in the case of McDonnell vs.United States. The case concerns government corruption. Basically it looks like the Court is saying pay to play politics are fine as long as there is no direct quid pro quo of money being turned over in exchange for a vote for a bill. Here is the story from WJRZ TV.

A key U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday could aid former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos as they appeal their federal corruption convictions.

The court unanimously ruled Monday morning in favor of former Virginia Gov. Bob MdDonnell, vacating his 2015 corruption conviction and sending his case back to a lower court. McDonnell had been convicted of extortion and fraud for accepting more than $175,000 in loans and gifts from a Virginia business executive.

The case centered on the meaning of "official act," with the Supreme Court ruling it's not enough to convict a government official if they only set up a meeting or organize an event for a gift giver and nothing more.

McDonnell's case was being watched closely by attorneys for Silver and Skelos, who were separately convicted of various bribery and fraud charges last year and automatically ejected from office. The case could have implications for both former New York politicians, whose bail-pending-appeal hearings were postponed until after the McDonnell decision came down.

"To qualify as an 'official act,' the public official must make a decision or take an action on that question or matter, or agree to do so," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court's unanimous opinion. "Setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event-without more-does not fit that definition of 'official act.'"

While U.S. attorney Preet Bharara is confident the Silver and Skelos convictions will hold up under this ruling, I'm not so sure.

Susan Lerner, executive director of good-government group Common Cause/NY is not enthusiastic about the decision either.

She said the Court "lives in a fantasy land that defies the common sense understanding of two New York juries."

"By confirming that a pay-to-play culture is an inherent part of day-to-day politics, the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates for special interest groups to influence politicians, at the expense of American democracy," Lerner said in a statement that I am taking from the WJRZ piece.

Politico chimed in also:

As it unanimously overturned former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s corruption convictions Monday, the Supreme Court may have given a green light to politicians and their allies to trade access for money, according to legal experts and disappointed advocates for government ethics laws.

The ruling, which struck down the conviction of the former Virginia governor on the grounds that ordinary political favors such as arranging meetings aren’t sufficient to justify a bribery conviction, was pored over Monday by lawyers for a series of embattled politicians ranging from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.)

"This dramatically narrows the ability of the Justice Department to prosecute corruption cases," said Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21. "There are all kinds of things public officials can do short of casting a vote or making a policy decision that are of enormous benefit to an individual and, in essence, become legalized bribery under this decision."

Maybe we are all reading too much into the decision and it won't be as bad as these critics are saying. Then again maybe the Supreme Court just made our system even worse than it already is.


Anonymous said...

The United States Legal System is dysfunctional and corrupt to the core.
1) Party bosses prevent criminal prosecution of white collar criminals.
2) The Supreme Court decides based on the personal political views of the court judges and not based on the law or constitution; They then rationalize their decisions using sophisticated rhetorical flourishes. The supreme court judges ate elitist jackasses.
3) The high cost of legal representation makes for an uneven playing ground where the wealthy and large institutions have an unfair advantage.
4) The incentives of the prison industrial complex has made the US the nation with the highest rate on incarceration. They have lobbied for laws and funding that has extremely racist consequences.

In summary, the US legal system is a mockery of justice in the real sense of the word justice.

James Eterno said...

I just noticed this. Great comment. Thanks.