WASHINGTON—On the last day of its annual term, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously threw out the federal bribery conviction of former Governor Bob McDonnell from Virginia.
Chief Justice John Roberts summarized the case for the Supreme Court in McDonnell v. United States, beginning:
In 2014, the Federal Government indicted former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, on bribery charges. The charges related on the acceptance by the McDonnells of $175,000 in loans, gifts, and other benefits from Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams, while Governor McDonnell was in office.
To convict the McDonnells of bribery, the Government was required to show that Governor McDonnell committed (or agreed to commit) an “official act” in exchange for the loans and gifts.
McDonnell was convicted of violating the Hobbs Act.
Regarding the specific events for which the Obama administration prosecuted McDonnell, all nine justices agreed, “We reject the Government’s reading of [the Hobbs Act] and adopt a more bounded interpretation of ‘official act.’ Under that interpretation, setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an ‘official act.’”
After surveying decades of Supreme Court precedent and examining the dictionary meaning of the words found in the Hobbs Act, the Court held:
In sum, an “official act” is a decision or action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding, or controversy.” [It] must involve a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit before a court, a determination before an agency, or a hearing before a committee. It must also be something specific and focused that is “pending” or “may by law be brought” before a public official. To qualify as an “official act,” the public official must make a decision or take an action on [the matter] or agree to do so. That decision or action may include using his official position to exert pressure on another official to perform an “official act,” or to advise another official, knowing or intending that such advice will form the basis for an “official act” by another official.
Applying the rule here, the Court held McDonnell’s actions were not official acts.
After discussing other related issues in the case, Roberts concluded the Court’s opinion by relating:
There is no question that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute. A more limited interpretation of the term “official act” leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with the text of the statute and the precedent of this Court.
Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski