McDonnell v. United States Coverage Round-Up

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided McDonnell v. United States, an important corruption case involving the former Governor of Virginia. It’s easy to get lost in the news coverage, so here’s Issue One’s guide to what’s worth reading:

Our coverage of the case is two-fold. We wrote an explainer of the case, updated yesterday with the decision. We also issued a statement yesterday in response to the decision.

Here’s the written opinion, by Chief Justice Roberts.

To read about the decision, be sure to check out Adam Liptak in The New York Times, Robert Barnes in The Washington Post, Greg Stohr and David McLaughlin in Bloomberg, Josh Gerstein in Politico, Richard Wolf in USA Today and Andrew Prokop in Vox.

Travis Fain in the Newport News Daily Press covers the case and features some stunning quotes by two legal scholars. Stephen Farnsworth, Professor and Director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, calls the decision “a nation-wide green light for donors seeking assistance for public officials, and for public officials willing to provide favors.” And Quentin Kidd, Director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, writes: “In Virginia, it has the practical effect of saying that the way of politics in Virginia is OK. In other words, it’s OK to take loads of cash and other gifts from someone who is clearly angling for something, just so long as you don’t actually do anything that falls under the yet-to-be defined, but certainly more narrow, definition of an official act.”

Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog covers the decision’s legal merits in depth.

SCOTUSblog is also hosting a symposium on the decision, which will be continually updated for a few days. Highlights include a piece by Hampton Dellinger, a partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, who argues that the Court never focused on the pro part of the quid pro quo, and a piece by Fred Wertheimer, President of Democracy 21, who sounds alarms for the future of corruption. Tara Malloy, Deputy Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center, traces the recent history of money in politics jurisprudence at the Court and concludes that McDonnell just adds to the list of detrimental decisions.

The New York Times asks former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose influence peddling landed him in jail, to comment on the decision. Abramoff calls the Supreme Court “clueless” about corruption and how money can influence policymakers. 

Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard, criticizes the decision in Bloomberg View for using campaign finance jurisprudence to protect “political influence peddling” under the First Amendment. Michael Johnston, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Colgate University, argues in The New York Daily News that the Justices misunderstand how corruption works: often subtly, not explicitly. Ofer Raban, a Professor of Law at the University of Oregon, rebukes the decision in The Oregonian. And the editorial board of The Boston Herald argues that the Court has strayed from public opinion on the issue. 

Elsewhere, in Governing magazine, Alan Greenblatt describes the current watered-down state of Virginia ethics laws passed in the wake of McDonnell’s initial trial. Be sure to read for the quotes by Stephen Farnsworth, Professor and Director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington: “When you talk about Virginia and ethics law, it’s pretty clear it’s the wild, wild West.”

Fredreka Schouten in USA TodayChris Cillizza in The Washington Post‘s The Fix and Amy Davidson in The New Yorker all note that convicting politicians of corruption has just become much tougher.

Robert Bauer, a partner at Perkins Coie and former White House counsel under President Obama, as well as a law professor at New York University, writes in The Washington Post that the decision means the burden is unfortunately on the people, not the courts, to bring corrupt politicians to justice.

For WVTF Public Radio, Michael Pope reports on the list of contributors to the McDonnell’s legal defense fund, which included Richard Gilliam, a coal industry executive who was appointed by the governor to an advisory council, as well as Dwight Schar, a homebuilder who contributed to McDonnell’s campaign.

In The Wall Street Journal, Brent Kendall details how the case may affect other corruption cases, including those of Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), former New York state Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver (D), and former New York state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R). Eric Lipton and Benjamin Weiser examine the latter two cases, plus former Governor Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) in The New York Times. And before touching on how the case will affect other pending trials, Russell Berman notes on the eerie silence of elected officials in response to the decision in The Atlantic, indicating that they may have been quietly celebrating it.

Keep checking this page for updates. We’ll be adding continuously.