Justices Consider Corruption Case of Former Gov. Bob McDonnell

Apr 27, 2016

Credit AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Although the line of questioning by jurists in any appeals case does not necessarily indicate how they're leaning, in the appeal of former Governor McDonnell’s corruption convictions, the U.S. Supreme Court justices did not seem comfortable with the broad interpretation of the federal law used to convict him. 

McDonnell's attorney Noel Francisco argued that the jury was given erroneous instructions--and was never told that they must find under the law that McDonnell used his position to influence government officials to support the products of businessman Jonnie Williams.

Justices consistently asked Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben how McDonnell’s granting access to Williams by setting up meetings or holding events was any more felonious than other political figures.

Justice Stephen Breyer declared that a prosecutor could be overzealous—and that without a more specific corruption standard, he's worried about the separation of powers and that prosecutors could have too much power over politicians.

Justice Elena Kagan said it appears that in the original indictment, the prosecution used a broad brush with every piece of evidence to make it appear that McDonnell performed "official acts" for Williams in exchange for gifts. Chief Justice John Roberts said he found it extraordinary for them to agree on anything, but legal counsels to both Democratic and Republican presidents filed a brief in favor of McDonnell. 

Justice Sonya Sotomayor said McDonnell  clearly intended to help his benefactor. And the Deputy Solicitor General told justices that overturning McDonnell's conviction would send the wrong message to citizens.

Credit AP Photo/Andrew Harnik