The Supreme Court will consider at least three cases involving a federal law making it a crime “to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.” Today, the justices said they would review the convictions under that law of former Enron Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling for his role in the collapse of the one-time energy giant. The New York Times cites another case involving Conrad Black, the newspaper executive convicted of defrauding his media company, Hollinger International. A third concerns a ex-Alaska legislator Bruce Weyhrauch, who failed to disclose that he was soliciting work from a company with business before the legislature.
Critics of the honest services law say it has two essential flaws. It allows federal prosecutors vast discretion “to go after people they don't like or people they disagree with politically,” said Julie Rose O'Sullivan, who teaches criminal law at Georgetown. The second problem, said George Brown of Boston College Law School, is that prosecutions of state officials under the federal law may violate fundamental principles of federalism. “It represents a federal judgment that you can't trust the states,” he said.