by Yvette Carnell
Two corrupt politicians; one black, one white. The black one is serving the longest sentence for political corruption in American history, while the white one was just given a ‘get-out-of-jail-free-card’ by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court decided that even though former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell took gifts from people seeking favors, that in and of itself does not constitute corruption. According to the The New York Times, the Supreme Court “narrowed the definition of what sort of corruption can serve as a basis for prosecution.”
The Intercept explains what the Supreme Court’s decision means:
McDonnell decision, the Court held that a lower court’s interpretation of quid pro quo defined the quo too broadly, because for McDonnell to run interference for his generous donors with state officials didn’t actually qualify as an “official decision.”
In other words, the Court first decided in 2010 that only out-and-out bribes matter, and now it has decided that only a carefully defined subset of bribes qualify.
In the McDonnell case, it was proven that Jonnie Williams, the CEO of a dietary supplement company, gave McDonnell an engraved Rolex watch, took McDonnell’s wife Maureen on a $20,000 shopping spree at Louis Vuitton and Oscar de le Renta in New York, loaned the couple over $100,000, and much more. In return, McDonnell set up meetings for Williams with Virginia officials that Williams used to push for the state to fund studies on the effectiveness of his supplements, pestered his staff about it, let Williams throw a product launch lunch at the governor’s mansion, and allowed Williams to add himself and associates to the guest list for a reception for state healthcare leaders. Williams himself testified that the gifts he gave the McDonnells were “a business transaction.”
In freeing McDonnell, the Supreme Court made it harder to pursue corruption cases against all politicians. Prosecutors may choose to retry McDonnell under the stricter corruption guidelines, but that seems unlikely.
While McDonnell and his team were popping champagne bottles, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was probably making peace with spending the rest of his life behind bars.
Kilpatrick’s attorney, Harold Gurewitz, had argued in an appeal on behalf of the disgraced former Detroit mayor that two federal agents were given too much latitude by the trial court in presenting the prosecution’s case against Kilpatrick. Gurewitz had also argued that Kilpatrick had been forced to keep defense attorneys from a firm that was suing him in another lawsuit.
Although the Supreme Court fast-tracked McDonnell’s case, ensuring that he wouldn’t spend any time in prison, Kilpatrick’s case was rejected without comment. Make no mistake, Kilpatrick deserved to be convicted under the previous rules, but what about the stricter guidelines put in place by the Court on behalf of McDonnell? Does Kilpatrick deserve to be serving the longest sentence in political corruption history considering the level of political corruption among the ruling class in this country? Hillary Clinton turned the State Department into her personal ATM and has yet to be brought up on charges.
There are also any number of wrongfully convicted inmates whose appeals will go unanswered by the Supreme Court. In probably the most well known case to date, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia, even though witnesses recanted their testimony. His last ditch effort was rejected by the Supreme Court prior to his execution.
“This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved,” wrote Antonin Scalia in the 2009 decision that sealed Davis’ fate.