The Supreme Court appears to be leaning in favor of reversing the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, based on today’s oral arguments.
At the case’s core is how to determine a clean “official act” from a corrupt one, and where the line is.
Justice Elena Kagan said during oral arguments that the court is concerned both about overzealous prosecutors and giving a free pass to corrupt politicians.
Many of the justices — both liberal and conservative — appeared dissatisfied with the standard that the government is currently using to seek convictions on public corruption charges.
Justice Stephen Breyer said he doesn’t want a situation where all of the power is in the hands of the Justice Department to decide who is prosecuted for a felony and who is not.
In other words, the Court would like to find a balance between rampant witch hunts and…Chicago.
The line between “legal” and “illegal” in politics is often confused with the one between “savory” and “unsavory.” The cost of doing business in politics has always involved a lot of mutual back-scratching between politicians and their private-sector supporters. That will never go away.
The laws governing political corruption are not unlike NCAA recruiting rules: the intent is understandable but they can be so convoluted that even the good people can be tripped up by them. Nothing McDonnell did was technically illegal, so they went after him and his wife on “conspiracy to commit fraud” charges. If the standards are, as some of the justices seem to think, very unclear, the interpretation of them could be used as political weapons. Of course, we would have to be living in a United States where the Justice Department was highly politicized.