Within moments after the Supreme Court reversed former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s political corruption conviction yesterday, defense lawyers from Illinois to New York were citing the unanimous ruling as grounds to challenge past and pending criminal corruption cases brought by the Justice Department, reports the New York Times.
“This is a sign of the court saying to prosecutors, ‘You are overreaching,’” said Leonard Goodman, a lawyer for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted on corruption charges in 2011 and is scheduled to be resentenced in August. “They think they have unfettered discretion to take down any elected officials.”
Current and former prosecutors strongly disagreed. In Manhattan, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “While we are reviewing the McDonnell decision, the official actions that led to the convictions of [former New York state political leaders] Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos fall squarely within the definition set forth by the Supreme Court.” Still, there was agreement among legal experts that the ruling would make it harder for the government to win corruption convictions. For the second time since 2010, the court narrowed the avenues that prosecutors have to file such charges. The decision could discourage some cases from being brought in the first place. “The bar is now higher in terms of what you have to prove,” said Randall Eliason, a former chief of the public corruption section at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. “This will leave a lot of unsavory conduct unpunished.”