A 1988 federal law that is a favorite tool of prosecutors in corruption cases met with almost universal hostility from Supreme Court justices in arguments yesterday, the New York Times reports. The law, making it a crime “to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services,” often is used to prosecute corporate executives and politicians said to have defrauded their employers or constituents.
Justice Steven Breyer estimated that there are 140 million of 150 million workers in the U.S. could be prosecuted under the government's interpretation of the law. An attorney for convicted newspaper executive Conrad Black urged the court to strike down the law as unconstitutionally vague, an idea that seemed attractive to several justices. Chief Justice John Roberts said that if the public cannot understand what a criminal law means, “then the law is invalid.”